Words Matter: Thinking Beyond Words Spoken
Think about a time you felt belittled or embarrassed by someone. As a kid, specifically as a teenager, I remember how emotions sit so close to the surface that you are unsure of yourself and want to appear cool or be considered popular.
As we get older, we become more secure in ourselves and learn coping mechanisms to handle feelings of being "lesser than" or incompetent. Now imagine returning to that place after a lifetime of accomplishments and security in oneself. It is something most people try to forget. We chalk it up to growing pains and adolescent behavior. Those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease go through the reversal of this process.
I love writing these articles. It is therapeutic for me. It helps me as I go through this process of "unbecoming." Right now, I know what is happening around me, so I reverted back to that insecure teenager who feels embarrassed or belittled by her peers. I know the day will come when I will no longer be aware of this paradigm, and honestly, I think it will be easier for me. It will almost be a relief to leave this adolescent phase again.
Please don't misunderstand; I am grasping at every bit of life and experience and joy that I can, and I have a wonderfully supportive family and many good friends. The point is, just like in middle school, words matter.
Think beyond your words
Recently I wrote about the word "remember." It is important to be mindful about using words such as this with someone who suffers from Alzheimer's, but there are other words as well as comments, mannerisms, and responses that can evoke the same emotional response.
Caring for and interacting with a person with cognitive impairment requires patience. It also requires flexibility and self-awareness in the friends and caregivers around the person. It is absolutely okay to pause and consider your choice of words before responding.
Take a deep breath if you have to. This is especially true of caregivers. As a caregiver, you will have moments of frustration, exasperation, and anger. This is a normal emotional response to the situation, and I am empathetic to that.
My trip to Greece
Recently my wife and I and our dear friends Karen and Tonya went to Greece. It was a wonderful trip. It was a bucket list item for me. I enjoyed all of the food, sites, islands, and history. There was one thing that I did not enjoy; the airport and transfer ferries. It caused me great anxiety.
I had several "meltdowns" on those occasions. In all honesty, I responded to the anxiety of the moment with anger. I would say things that were argumentative and angry not only to my traveling companions but to others. My wife would snap at me, and then I would cry uncontrollably. It would take me 30 minutes to recover and get control of myself. I imagine it was like traveling with a child sometimes.
She was embarrassed at my behavior and didn't know how to handle how I was acting. She is a very strong person and a wonderful caregiver, this is in no way blaming or pointing fingers at her, and yes, she gave me permission to write about her.
Instead say this
Caregivers need to be armed with information to help them respond in a manner that can diffuse the situation or at least minimize it. Use words that encourage, comfort, diffuse, or distract from the situation. Take a deep breath and consider what you want to convey to your loved one.
"What can I do to help you?"
"It's okay, I got you."
"You are doing fine."
"I'm here. It will be alright."
"We can do this together."
All good ways to diffuse an emotional moment.
Words, body language, and non-verbal expressions count too
Body language and non-verbal expressions are important as well. Eye rolling, exaggerated sighs, and saying things like "how embarrassing" are not helpful, and if it takes a moment to close your eyes and take a couple of controlled deep breaths, then take them.
Being a caregiver is hard. It may be the hardest work ever. You are appreciated and valued more than you know. Your person loves and depends on you, even if, at the moment, they say something hurtful.
Self-care is very important. Remember what they tell you on airplanes. Put your own oxygen mask on before you attempt to help others. Keep up the good work - it matters.
Which, if any, of the following most often trigger agitation in your loved one living with Alzheimer's disease?