“Little Wished-for Deaths” (beautiful caregiving story)

This is a beautiful story about a woman who cared for her 90-plus year old grandfather with Parkinson’s Disease and dementia.

Excerpt:

“Because grief, like death, doesn’t adhere to our constructs. The wished-for deaths of ailing loved ones doesn’t make them any less loved. It only means we hoped for an end to suffering, on both accounts. And deaths that are supposed to be small can sometimes feel big. … The funeral commemorated a life that spanned nearly a century, putting those four years into a birds-eye perspective. They were sometimes burdensome, yes, and sometimes beautiful, but only a small portion of a rich and varied life: of his and mine both.”

The full article is here:

www.nytimes.com/2019/10/11/well/family/little-wished-for-deaths.html

Little Wished-for Deaths
by Mary Pembleton
October 11, 2019
New York Times

Robin

“Aikido communication – Align, agree, redirect, and resolve” – notes

Caregiver Teleconnection, a service of WellMed Charitable Foundation,
hosts periodic conference calls on caregiving topics.  Last week, the
topic was “Aikido communication – Align, agree, redirect, and
resolve.”  The speaker was a gerontologist with the Texas Extension
Service, Andy Crocker.

With Aikido, one listens for areas of agreement or common ground and
uses “I” messages, which are particularly effective when emotions run
high.  With “I” messages, rather than “You” messages, caregivers can
de-escalate potentially confrontational situations between themselves
and family members or healthcare providers.  This approach is also
useful in de-escalating situations between caregivers and care
recipients, even if the care recipient has cognitive impairment.

The conference recording (audio only) is available here:

https://soundcloud.com/caregiverteleconnection/finding-common-ground-aikido-communication-with-andy-crocker-91018

Brain Support Network uber-volunteer Denise Dagan listened to the
conference call and shared her notes below.

To sign up for email announcements about these conference calls, check out:

http://caregiversos.org/caregiver-teleconnection/

Check out the many examples.  This approach is definitely worth trying.

Robin

————————————————————

Notes by Denise Dagan, Brain Support Network volunteer

Finding Common Ground: Aikido Communication
Speaker:  Andy Crocker, Gerontologist, University of Texas Extension Service

Caregiver Teleconnection
September 10, 2018

Communication is a process or cycle.  When I speak, you respond based
on your individual interpretation of what I said (based on your
experience).  Your sensory perception, health, patience, etc. impacts
your response to my comment(s).

The process begins with how I choose to phrase what I say.  “I”
messages increase the chances of being heard with a positive tone.
“You” messages are confrontational and may result in conflict.

Example:  Conversation between siblings (Andy and Katie) caring for their Mom.

Andy: “You need to help around the house.”  The tone is accusing Katie
of not doing enough around the house and may result in conflict.

Andy: “I need help around the house.”  The tone is stating his need
for help around the house and is not accusing or blaming.

Another example:

Andy: “You made me so angry!”  Blaming Katie for Andy’s anger.

Andy: “I feel angry that you…”  Blaming Betsy’s action for Andy’s
anger.  One level removed is less confrontational.

Sometimes, it is best to make an appointment to speak about something
and actually plan what you will say to get your message across with a
level head.
* Take out “You” messages in the plan for how to communicate your
message or your ask.
* Keep out irrelevant factors from your history together from the discussion.
* Never say, “You always…,” or “You never.…”
* Be sure to express your appreciation for assistance others provide
in your caregiving so they feel appreciated.

Aikido Communication

Tenets / 4 Steps:

Align – find the other person’s perspective.  See the situation from
in the other person’s shoes.
* How would I feel if I were in their shoes
* What does this person need form me?  Praise, appreciation, control?
– Ask: Give me an example of something I can do?  If I could do one
thing to help you, what would that be?
– Rather than saying, “What do you want from me?!” or “What am I
supposed to be doing?!”

Agree – identify issue and concerns with common ground (goals, needs,
feelings) to get on the same page
* I share your concern about…,  I agree we need to do something about…,

Redirect – move to productivity
We both want to do what’s best for…

Resolve –
I think we should explore…,  I think…would be helpful for…

Sometimes, you have to agree that there is no resolution or solution
to the problem at hand.  That, in itself, is progress.

Aikido can be used in communicating with a person who has cognitive
impairment or dementia, where higher order functioning is not present.

Example: Grandson caring for grandfather with dementia who was a
Marine Colonel.  Every morning he rises at 4am and get the day
started.  You can’t tell him he’s no longer a Marine and has no place
to go because being a Marine is his experience of the world.  You must
align, agree, redirect and resolve to understand his motivation for
what he’s doing.  To help him maintain his dignity, activity,
independence as much as possible without adding fuel to verbal or
physical conflict.

* Align – he believes he is a Marine so you must cooperate with what
you can do at home within his ‘world’.  You cannot keep him in bed
longer.

* Agree – you know he always started with shaving, dressing,
breakfast, exercise – all things you can assist him with that align
with his belief that he is a Marine and are things he can do
productively at home.

* Redirect – ask for his help around the house today and direct his
attention to KP duty / cleaning up breakfast. You know he always
shaved twice daily, so be sure to include that activity to the daily
schedule.

* Resolve – In dealing with someone who has dementia, resolution is
that grandpa sleeps through the night and accepting that he rises as
4am, obtaining grandpa’s cooperation, calm demeanor, emotional calm
throughout the day.  Recognizing that what works one day may not work
the next day – just give your initial inclination / plan a try and see
how effective it is.

Aikido Communication is one more tool in your toolbox to help get
through your day, along with:
* Mindfulness & relaxation techniques
* Respite resources
* Caregiving or Home maintenance assistance (volunteer friends/family
or hired help)

Question and Answer

Q. Aikido is like Naomi Feil Validation.

A. Both her method and Aikido have the same understanding of how to
understand and manage someone with dementia, but Validation is less
useful for direct communication.  We can be assertive without being
aggressive or confrontational.  Using the “I” messages to identify how
you feel and what you need and suggest what needs to be done without
the conversation devolving.  It is not easy because it does not come
naturally to us, but it is effective.

Q. I found I always did what my father told me, but now that he has
dementia I find I am the one who needs to tell him what to do and how
to do it to keep him healthy and safe.  There is a big disconnect when
your eyes see your father, but your mind tells you he is not the same
man he was.  The disconnect is painful and challenging.

A. Good future topics are role loss or role change.  There is a good
amount of loss and grief when the person you used to look to for
direction and advice is no longer available to you because of their
cognitive changes.  At the same time, you need to take charge and do
what’s necessary to look after him.

A. There are family members surrounding the primary caregiver and care
recipient who are all struggling with grief before the care
recipient’s death (anticipatory grief).  There is grief with the loss
of each of the care recipient’s abilities.  Often there is a family
member who doesn’t want to help or visit because they don’t want to
see the care recipient in ’that’ state.  That’s anticipatory grief.
Sometimes, it is helpful to identify it as grief in a conversation
with them to try to help them work through their grief and garner
their help in caring until the person actually does pass away.  They
may be adamant that they don’t want to see their family member in
’that’ state.  It is sad but you must respect that avoidance is their
way of dealing with their grief.

“Dementia Spouse Caregivers’ Relationship Closeness” – Dissertation Excerpts

This is a doctoral dissertation from 2017 on the impact of the
relationship for a spouse caring for a husband or wife with dementia.
Though dementia caregiving is the focus of this dissertation, I think
the document applies to caregiver spouses where the care-recipient
does NOT have dementia.

The document is 280 pages so I didn’t read it all but skipped around.
Despite the fact that the language is scholarly, many of the pages are
worth reading.

I’ve provided two long excerpts below. The second excerpt includes
this sentence: “It is also known that a spouse’s vows, vigilance,
worry and tireless caregiving result in incredible morbidity.” I
think this refers to the caregiver’s morbidity. The dissertation’s
author indicates that “caregivers would be in better states of health
and wellness if clinicians were aware of the [couple’s] ability to
communicate…”

Here are the two excerpts I found the most interesting:

(From page 55 and 56, using the page numbers of the dissertation)

Couplehood. Lobo Prabhu et al. (2005) skillfully depicted the
relationship of husbands and wives… When dementia was introduced,
the fragile balance was thrown into chaos. The authors constructed a
framework to explain why couples stayed together and offered practice
implications to enable spouses to continue caregiving with sound
support. They reported that couples retained togetherness, despite
dementia, when the basis of stable marriage included concepts of:
1. quid pro quo (an equal exchange or substitution),
2. values of commitment (respect, pride, and accomplishment despite sacrifice),
3. holding on to the familiar (vs. letting go and abandonment),
4. rupture vs. repair of marital bond (what is the minimal
gratification the caregiver requires to sustain the relationship? will
a smile or eye recognition suffice?),
5. mastery of separation (decisional capacity and choice migrates from
care-recipient to caregiver),
6. spirituality (altruism and prayer),
7. changes in sexuality (loss of shared togetherness) and
8. emotional support (social connections, family support, and kin-care).

(From page 80 of the dissertation)

Regrettably, the couple’s “together life biography” and pre-dementia
relationship closeness are greatly underestimated in clinical practice
(Davies & Gregory, 2007). Pre-dementia relationship closeness and
current relationship closeness colors the way a spouse caregiver makes
decisions and renders effective and nurturing care, or not. It
triggers advocacy or ambivalence. It is also known that a spouse’s
vows, vigilance, worry and tireless caregiving result in incredible
morbidity. Moreover, empiric literature has shown relationships
characterized by kindness, respect, and warmth, or less criticism,
conflict, and family dysfunction are associated with better caregiver
and care-recipient morbidity and caregiving outcomes. Additionally,
the care-recipient behavior is a significant controlling factor for
the caregiver’s reciprocal emotions, relationship, burden, and
depression. Therefore, caregivers would be in better states of health
and wellness if clinicians were aware of the dyad’s ability to
communicate, the efficacy of their interactions, the strengths, and
weaknesses activated by dementia disease and the vulnerabilities now
present in the dementia dyad’s life together experience.

Here’s a link to the full document, in case you’d like to check out
more of the dissertation:

https://opencommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=7648&context=dissertations

Heart and Soul: A Phenomenology of Dementia Spouse Caregivers’
Relationship Closeness
by Elena Schjavland, PhD
University of Connecticut, 2017

Thanks to an online friend who is an FTD caregiver for sharing this
dissertation with me.

Let me know if you find other parts that resonate with you,
Robin

“Compassion fatigue,” including typical trajectory – Notes

On August 1st, Caregiver Teleconnection hosted a teleconference by social worker, Amy Cunningham, on the topic of compassion fatigue as experienced by caregivers.

Amy explained the difference between stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. She identified the signs, symptoms and trajectory of compassion fatigue as well as the five habits of resiliency that can help caregivers to grow, rather than be traumatized by caregiving.

There are five habits you can develop that, when practiced every day, will not only make you the best caregiver you can be (happier, more energetic), but keep your health intact so you will be able to care for your loved one for as long as they need you.  The habits of resiliency include:

#1 – Physical resiliency
#2 – Spiritual resiliency 
#3 – Emotional resiliency
#4 – Psychological resiliency
#5 – Self care

Amy reviewed the typical trajectory compassion fatigue takes:

Phase 1 “Zealot” – full of enthusiasm, go the extra mile, handholding, extra care, willingness to do anything

Phase 2 “Irritability” – begin to take shortcuts, avoid people and conversation about work, make mistakes

Phase 3 “Withdrawal” – clients become irritants, enthusiasm disappears, avoid discussing your job, avoid people & work

Phase 4 “Zombie” – go through the motions, no humor, no fun, disconnected from emotions, lost compassion, lost hope.

You can find the audio recording here:

soundcloud.com/caregiverteleconnection/compassionfatigue8118

To sign up for email announcements about these conference calls, sponsored by the WellMed Charitable Foundation, check out:

caregiversos.org/caregiver-teleconnection/

Brain Support Network volunteer Denise Dagan listened to the conference call and shared the notes below.

Robin

—————————————————————

Notes by Brain Support Network volunteer Denise Dagan

Compassion Fatigue
Speaker: Amy Cunningham, Social Worker

Caregiver Teleconnection
August 1, 2018

Amy personally experienced compassion fatigue.  Afterwards, she recovered she developed a curriculum to share with others how to identify symptoms and overcome compassion fatigue.

During a flight with her 5 children under 9, even though Amy was attentive to the flight attendant’s instructions, a flight attendant came to check with her that Amy understood the importance of putting her own mask on before helping her children.  That’s how caregiving is.  Our first instinct may be to care for our family member before ourselves, but if we are incapacitated by the stress of the situation, we are of no help to our family.  You must look after your own needs first!

Stress is difficult to define because it is subjective.  What one person finds stressful, another person may not find stressful.  Stress is unavoidable and not a bad thing with the right mindset and self care.

A good place to begin is to do a self assessment – and don’t lie to yourself or others about how you are managing.

Deviation from baseline is what you want to pay attention to in your self assessment.  Consider these personal attributes:
* If normally you have a good memory but lately you can’t remember anything – you may be overstressed.
* If normally you are in good spirits but lately you are short tempered or moody – you may be overstressed.
* If normally you are well coordinated but lately you are dropping things constantly – you may be overstressed.
* If normally…  Can you identify areas where your normal is deviated from baseline?

We all wear many hats, but how do they affect your stress level?  What is the cost to your health, family or workplace?  If you are a tired, cranky employee, you come home and are a tired, cranky Mom/Dad/daughter/son etc.

Homework:  Take 10 minutes every day to do something you enjoy.  If you have more time to devote to your own joy – do it!  This homework is especially for those of you who feel as though you don’t even have 10 minutes to take care of yourself.
Run, walk, read, meditate, watch a video w/a coffee, tea or soft drink, call a friend or relative (but don’t talk about caregiving!)

What is compassion fatigue?  For today’s talk, it encompasses vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress, as follows:

* Vicarious traumatization – a state of tension and preoccupation with someone whom you have helped or are helping.  It can manifest either as reliving (PTSD) a traumatic event another experienced – OR – you begin to avoid all reminders of a traumatic event.

As an example: when Amy was working in a group home she was listening attentively to a client’s traumatic event.  In the middle of that conversation Amy’s cell phone rang.  She grabbed it and swiped the screen to silence it.  Henceforth, whenever her cell phone rang she recalled the trauma her client was describing.

Having a vicarious traumatization response happen up to a few months from the original hearing of the trauma is normal for those who devote themselves to caregiving because they tend to have a higher threshold of empathy.  Empathy is the ability to put yourself into another’s shoes.  You should be concerned if you experience a vicarious traumatization response longer than a few months or it begins to deviate your behavior from your baseline.

* Compassion fatigue – used to just be called, ‘burnout.’  It is a state of tension and preoccupation with someone whom you are taking care of, a traumatized survivor.  Generally a work related secondary exposure to an extremely traumatic, stressful event.  ‘Work’ includes unpaid, family caregivers, as they are still at risk.

* Secondary traumatic stress is about being afraid.  This is especially seen in child protective services workers where they begin to believe everyone is out to threaten them and their family.  That is an extreme example of how stress affects your behavior.

The term, ‘burnout,’ encompasses a range of degree all the way up to compassion fatigue.  In its simplest form burnout is a state of extreme dissatisfaction with your work.  It is a work related hopelessness and a feeling of being ineffective.

To distinguish between burnout and compassion fatigue.  Ask yourself, “Do you love the kind of work you’re doing?”  If the answer is yes, but you feel some of the symptoms Amy will describe, you may have compassion fatigue.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue:  Significant deviation from your individual normal in these areas are common symptoms of compassion fatigue.

* Emotional indicators – anger, irritability, sadness, depression, prolonged grief, numbness (not wanting to feel anything).  There are some incidents where the timeframe for grief is nearly infinite.  Amy is not talking about those circumstances.

* Personal indicators – isolation (pushing others away, not wanting to communicate), cynical, pessimistic, critical, mood swings, substance abuse (alcohol, drugs, food, sex, attention, TV binging) to fill a void, memory or concentration problems, self entitlement (justification of negative maladaptive behavior because of the things you do, e.g. social worker stays up all night with a client but the next day they are cranky with coworkers, e.g. someone who worked 60hrs in a week helping others, then announce they will be wasted all weekend)

* Physical indicators – general sickness, cold of flu symptoms, sleep issues, no energy, insomnia.  Note: Disruption of normal sleep patterns can cement PTSD symptoms because sleep is when the brain cleanses itself of traumatic events.  If you are not getting good sleep as a caregiver, you should make sleep a priority by trading the night shift with another caregiver so you do not further traumatize yourself and contribute to caregiver fatigue.

* Work indicators – avoiding certain people, missing appointments, suddenly becoming tardy frequently, lack of motivation, just ‘going through the motions,’ being a workaholic (certain personality type: when things get tough, they get tougher), becoming demoralized, feeling under appreciated or under-resourced (when those challenges of the job didn’t used to bother you)

Compassion fatigue can be arrested and treated at any time.  You just need to identify it to be able to move beyond it.

The typical trajectory compassion fatigue takes:

Phase 1 “Zealot” – full of enthusiasm, go the extra mile, handholding, extra care, willingness to do anything

Phase 2 “Irritability” – begin to take shortcuts, avoid people and conversation about work, make mistakes

Phase 3 “Withdrawal” – clients become irritants, enthusiasm disappears, avoid discussing your job, avoid people & work

Phase 4 “Zombie” – go through the motions, no humor, no fun, disconnected from emotions, lost compassion, lost hope

One student of Amy’s compassion fatigue said she is in phase 1 Monday, phase 2 Tuesday, phase 3 Wednesday and phase 4 Thursday and Friday.  Amy wonders how true that is for many people.  The idea is that if you can take care of yourself and find balance between what you need and what you need to do, you can be your best for both yourself and your care recipient.

One study found people who experienced growth after trauma, so they studied them to find out what they did differently.

They found 5 habits of resiliency that, when implemented daily, result in retraining your brain resulting in personal growth and longevity.

#1 – Physical resiliency: good sleep (6-8hrs, 5dys/wk), nutrition (Mediterranean diet), exercise (take stairs, park at edges of parking lots to get more steps in a day).  It is important to tell yourself that you are intentionally doing these things for your own well being because our brains are hard wired to recognize threats to our safety.  You have to reinforce the positives that you do for yourself to get the most benefit, to remind yourself to make these changes and to reinforce these new habits.

#2 – Spiritual resiliency: prayer, meditation and strong relationships (at least 1-2 people who know your good, bad & ugly)

#3 – Emotional resiliency: cry (releases endorphins which are natural pain relievers), laugh (laughing can relax you for up to 45 minutes, reduce risk of heart disease), give & get physical contact (increases oxytocin, making you feel more bonded to others)

#4 – Psychological resiliency: acknowledge your own personal victories (even if it is for something you do every day like put food on the table for your family.  Acknowledge that the meal is well balanced, it is on time, or that you dressed the table with a cloth or flowers.  Give yourself credit for a job well done throughout your day, every day)

#5 – Self Care: especially in your transition from work to personal time – take off your badge, change clothes, give yourself some music or meditation on your commute home.

Question and Answer

Q. A couldn’t believe her mother was living this long and wondered how long will caregiving for her mother go on?

A. Don’t feel any shame around that.  It is normal and doesn’t mean you love her any less, but that you have a constant demands on you and pressure.  Taking time to implement these habits of resiliency is important so you are not only giving your best, but you are your best.

Q. It is interesting to say that stress is a deviation from whom we really are.  In my case I always enjoyed gardening.  Now I don’t feel like it.  To relieve stress should I go back to gardening?

 

A. Don’t force yourself to do a therapeutic activity because that would have the opposite of the intended affect.  At the same time, our natural mechanism is to push away those things that used to bring joy.  It may be like exercise, most people don’t want to do it, but we feel great after we’re finished.  Try to bring gardening back into your life.  If you find you no longer enjoy it, even after you finish, move on to some other activity you can look forward to.

Q. Someone told a listener that the best way to relieve stress is to get yourself physically away from the stressful situation.

A. That can certainly help to some extent, but you want to make sure that you’re not just running from the situation.  It is not always possible to get physically away so finding moments when you can find stress relief in the middle of the day like through meditation, funny videos, taking a short stroll, reading, etc. is beneficial to your health, boosts your energy and improves your interaction with your care recipient.

Q. What do yo mean by physical contact?  Can it be with a pet or child/baby?

A. Absolutely! doesn’t matter if you are touching another person (of any age) or a pet.

Eleven things “they don’t tell you about dementia” (Dementia Journey)

When Laurie Scherrer was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia, she was told several things by doctors, including advice that she should get her affairs in order.  She writes about the eleven things she wished the doctors had said, including the idea that she could reduce confusion and agitation by observing triggers.

dementiajourney.org/2018/07/10/5589/