Dementia. Becoming a Stranger in an Unfamiliar Body.

18 Aug

The prettiest tree in the world, full of tuis, just down the road from the resthome.

Mum’s grandkids might think that a zombie has stolen her brain. Apparently only high functioning zombies go for the brain. They are after serotonin, the happiness hormone. Our mum hasn’t actually been near any zombies, they didn’t steal her brain, but something has partly stolen her happiness. Mum very sadly has vascular dementia, brought on by mini strokes, which now affects the way she thinks, feels, behaves and perceives things.

Dementia appears to sadly be a taboo subject. An article in psychology today says that somehow, to many of us, the idea of dementia seems more horrifying than cancer. Perhaps we fear the idea of losing who we are – becoming a stranger in an unfamiliar body. I think if we focused less on it being a mental health issue and saw it for what it really is, a most complicated brain disease that is fatal and cannot at this time be cured, it could take the ‘stigma’ out.  The most challenging part of late stage dementia, psychosis with symptoms that present a danger to the person and others, where someone is inconsolable and in persistent distress with a declining ability to function, can be helped greatly by anti-psychotics. 

Although memory loss wasn’t the main early symptom of mums dementia, she now has hardly any recollection of recent information or experiences. She can ask the same question 5 or 6 times in a loop and yet still remember her way from one town to another. She knows where her mother was born and that mushroom soup is horrible. She also knows she has never had to have anyone help bathe her before.

We recently travelled north to offer emotional support to our brother and to spend a week with mum to say hello (and begin to say goodbye) and was shocked at how rapidly her kind of dementia has progressed. It appears that as the structure and chemistry of her brain becomes increasingly damaged over time, her ability to remember and reason keeps declining which is so sad and unfair. Having appeared to have never aged, the physical difference in mum is astounding in just a matter of months. Whilst she still understands a lot and communicates fairly well, it’s probable looking at the residents around her, that this may slip away sometime in an unknown future. 

Dementia is an illness that expresses itself in its own way for every patient, so it’s challenging for families and nurses to ride a different roller coaster for each patient. 

There are many changes to come to terms with. Most days mum doesn’t like or want to see her own reflection anymore. Food isn’t satisfying her as such and she has a lot of disorientation with respect to time and place.

She can remember us kids by name, but is forgetting the grandchildren and great children’s names. She finds it hard to choose what to wear. She doesn’t ever ask why she is where she is or what happened. In a lot of ways she is very present moment. 

The hardest behavioural changes are the paranoia and delusions that surface briefly at different times of the day which are hard to determine or pinpoint. It could be about people taking things, doing things she doesn’t like, or being mean or horrible to her. She often says no one gives her any food or any medicine but they do. She sometimes kicks up at not being let out, but that one is true, they can’t let her out for her own safety.

There are people she has to share space with that have personalities that anyone would find challenging to have to be around. They constantly irk her (and others) and make her angry and unsettled which is hard, but it’s important to not be triggered by her upset or anger and instead aim to calm and distract, and agree and redirect.

On the good side, Mum still has her lovely affirming, praising, smiling, joking, generous, good-natured self, always interested and enquiring after others. She knows who her favourite people are, and her favourite carers. She is very nice to people who are nice to her. She loves to get postcards and letters and photographs. Brief, happy, newsy with big writing works well now. Some of the staff love her and say she is their favourite which so put our hearts at ease.

In the dining room, mum knows to sit at what we call the “nice” table. One of her friends at the nice table now often just stares into space, has to be fed, and is totally confined to a reclining chair with her feet elevated. It’s heartbreaking to see all the various stages of decline. This lady can no longer go on the short trips out of the home and it was so sweet to see mum go up to this lady and rub her arm and tell her “I’m so sorry you can’t come out on our outing with us, you take care.”  Her other lovely friend at the nice table, who funnily enough has a surname of a variety of nut, seems in a less state of decline than mum, but her memory loss and confusion arrives in the late afternoon in the ‘sundowning’ period. Mums medication seems to thankfully inhibit her agitation at this time of the day, which in the recent past was highly problematic. Such is the drug dilemma. There’s a sweet, very quiet, well-mannered man at their table who eats up all his food and stacks up his dishes. He is a calming influence. Everyone at the nice table feeds the birds their bread which says a lot about their character!

One man at the ‘naughty’ table seems to be in a constant state of anger and aggression. His wife who visited said he was never angry in the past which seems so sad. He triggers all the other patients with his comments and energy and they all forget to not make eye contact or pay any attention to him. He tells everyone to bugger off, slams his plates around and doesn’t like anyone smiling at him. The nurses often have to settle him down. I even asked him to take a deep breath once or twice.

Mobility is another thing that declines quickly. Mum uses a stick and a walker to get around, and the swelling in her legs and ankles make it difficult to walk around much. The diuretic to counteract the swelling make toilet trips urgent which can be difficult when one forgets where the actual toilet is located. In time she may forget to recognise the need to go. Thankfully the pain meds are masking her arthritis pain for the first time in many, many years. All week she never once mentioned being in pain.

Mum, commonly has moments of reacting either aggressively or tearfully if she feels threatened or cannot understand what is going on around her. It’s called having a meltdown and the staff are great at diffusing such situations. They work so hard, with everyone, physically and emotionally, and deserve a medal. 

In times of distorted ideas and distress, distracting and comforting mum helped a lot, and showing her photographs of family and past times soothed her, so did the real fruit ice cream and feijoa smoothies we smuggled in.

In the last couple of days of visiting we saw a decline in her ability to express preferences. Asked by a caregiver if she wanted weetbix or porridge for breakfast, you could see the panic in her eyes to have to choose. And she chose wrong. Having eaten porridge most of her life, she took one bite of weetbix and I had to return it and ask for porridge. The staff will of course adapt to these individual changes and instead begin to just give one thing or lay out one set of clothes. Mum will say “That’s not my cupboard.” “Those aren’t my clothes.” “I don’t live here.” “I’ve only been here a couple of days.” 

She tolerates medical interventions but in a joking way likes to let us know she’s probably being given arsenic! 

As distanced from family and friends as she might feel, our little brother (and his wife) are doing a stellar job. He visits most evenings which isn’t often an easy time emotionally to visit. Once a week he goes to buy healthy soup and takes mum to her elderly and quite unwell sisters place. He prepares the food, eats and chats and makes them laugh, does the dishes and then returns mum back to the home.

Most Sundays he comes to pick her up and takes her to his house for lunch with the extended family, makes sure she takes her medication at the right time, and drops her back late afternoon.

At the home they have weekly trips out which she still manages, although she has to be hydraulically hoisted into the van. On fun Fridays she goes next door to the unlocked wing and enjoys a music afternoon with other residents. There’s a hairdresser who comes to cut their hair, and random visits from kind-hearted high school kids. They come in with animals to pat, and massage the residents hands. (Well those residents who don’t tell them to “bugger off.” ) There’s a piano in their lounge.  I wish a pianist could come in every day as it was lovely to see everyone calm down, close their eyes, sing and get lost in the music. Days can seem awfully long (that may have just been for me) and as fear inducing as it is to imagine ever being in the situation mum is in, under the circumstances she is luckily really being cared for in the best way possible. 

My husband just said that the reality for people like mum, the 80 pluses, is that they are the ones who have avoided road accidents, heart attacks and cancer taking their lives and now they are at the mercy of their eroding bodies and brains.

Zombies don’t really feature, and tiger pits, chainsaws and wood chippers might keep zombies at bay but dementia patients just need us to ring and write and visit if we can. They need love and compassion and music, always more music.

 

How To Deal With Verbal Attacks.

26 Feb

Courage

Online, you can delete, block and sometimes report inappropriate or abusive comments, but what do you do if someone verbally attacks you at a dinner party or gathering?

After watching Anthony  launch into a witch hunt on Cheryl at the dinner party on Married at First Sight Australia  (series 4 episode 10) I realized a few things.

1.  A lot of people, even strong empowered ones, don’t always know HOW to stop unwanted, unwarranted, unacceptable tirades.

2. Abuse often renders people speechless and causes what I call “bunny in the headlights.”

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3. The majority of people tend to sit in a bystander rather than Continue reading

Are You A Space Taker Or Connection Maker?

18 Jan
you-asked-me-for-space-prints

You asked me for space by artist Soju Shots

A young photographer came into my shop this week and as it sometimes happens when it’s quiet and the energy is good, I got to work a little on-purpose magic.

She talked about her creative process and how she loves to wander with her camera, waiting for the moment to arrive that deserves capturing. She rolled her eyes at well-meaning relatives who direct her to take this or that.  When she goes to the beach with her boyfriend she said she can’t have quiet time because he is never quiet.

So I asked her Continue reading

What To Do If Your Boundaries Aren’t Respected.

20 Dec
happiness

image from myinsidejobonlife

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. Brene Brown.

Boundaries are guidelines put in place to encourage emotional and physical safety and are created by people who respect their own strengths, abilities and individuality as well as those of others.

Most of us are pretty clear about our distinct values, beliefs, psychological needs and preferences. Knowing who we are in our inner world and how we want to live in our outer world is a healthy and empowered way to be.

The imaginary line we draw around us to say this is who I am and these are the things that are important to me are not always respected by

  • habitual advantage takers
  • chaos and catastrophe addicts
  • drama makers with no self behaviour filters
  • the overly needy who expect you to save and solve their constant problems
  • people who are overly invested or amazed by you after only knowing you a short time
  • poor listeners
  • shame and blame throwers
  • judgemental disapproving types
  • manipulators, abusers and bullies.

The distress we feel when a boundary is violated is a message to protect ourselves and a signal to clearly express to bothersome people that there are things we don’t want them to do or say to us, one moment longer. When we set a limit or say no, or stop or don’t, it should count. We can state our feelings and wants and needs clearly, and set a reasonable consequence even though others are not responsible or obligated to honour what we ask for. They will either respect our limits or they will push and weasel and work their way across the boundary lines. This is likely to cause us to become

  • uncomfortable
  • drained
  • overwhelmed
  • shaky and shocked
  • reactive and emotionally charged
  • flooded with thoughts and feelings of what to do to fix it
  • angry at being mistreated or used.

Do not tolerate crappy behaviours because of fear. We are not obligated to meet the needs of others while sacrificing our own, just because we fear the consequences. Do not scramble for approval or acceptance. Accepting situations that are really unacceptable just to keep someone in our life means giving up whats important to our emotional safety. We needn’t compromise our values, integrity and self-respect. We are as entitled to make choices that others may not like as they are to make ones that we don’t like. It’s whether those choices are respected that makes the difference.

What can you do if others cross your boundaries?

  • Change what you can change. Let them know what they are doing. Say you won’t be taking that on, or that you aren’t someone who lends your things. Say no more often. Make yourself unavailable. Let them know what you like and don’t like (again) express your bottom line, and say things like you promised yourself you would not take calls in the evening or accept unannounced visits.
  • Accept what you can’t change.
  • Remove yourself from completely unacceptable situations and don’t feel bad about your choices. Ask them to stop immediately. No means no. Inappropriate is inappropriate. Walk away from constant judgement, teasing, criticism, put-downs and negative comments without giving up or getting angry. Don’t engage in a justifying and defending match with people who refuse to hear your concerns. Instead, wait for them to not like being “told” and watch them exit.
  • Have it be ok to make your world smaller if need be. Find your tribe. Those safe, solid, authentic connections who are capable of compassion, are easy to be around, where mutual respect is common place. Hang out with uplifting souls and energise each other.

5 Things People Do Wrong In Relationships.

16 Aug
Resolving Conflict

Illustrated by Clementine Sourdais.

1. We focus on what’s wrong rather than acknowledging and growing what’s right.

Ruminating on annoyances never makes them magically disappear. Instead we need to consciously manage our own reactions, responses and behaviours by curiously wondering what gets triggered within us when we feel wronged or annoyed. Or we could choose to just step away and skip merrily on our way, sidestepping obstacles. The more we involve ourselves in tasks that propel us forward and make us feel good, the better. See if you can stop, breath, count to five and remind yourself of the value your loved ones add to your life.

2. We criticise rather than praise behaviours or affirm competence.

Think about how it feels when you have your less than fabulous traits pointed out to you in a way that doesn’t invite healthy discussion or kind creative solutions. Generally speaking people are more ready to give negative feedback than positive, and are likely to tell all who will listen about bad service rather than yell thanks from the rooftops about great service. Let’s all aim to spread more kindness around. Acknowledge. Affirm. Praise. Give thanks. Write a 5 star review.

3. Negative emotions are so much easier to grab at when we feel threatened. 

It’s important to stay resourced, rested and care for ourselves in ways that don’t run us ragged or make us righteous, stubborn or argumentative. Being tired and run down seemingly “allows” anger to spill over. Flowing lava burns people. Choose how, when and if you use it. Think about the consequences. If someone crosses your boundary, it’s really ok to just state something simple such as “I’m not ok with that.” Or “It’s not ok to talk to me like that.” Or invite the other person to communicate respectfully by asking “Could you please say that in a way that makes me want to listen.” Be encouraging and hopeful of change. If change doesn’t occur, reassess what you are doing and be brave enough to sidestep situations or people who don’t enrich your being.

4. We don’t always behave in respectful ways or treat others the way we would like to be treated.

Disrespect can sneak in a number of ways from how we talk to each other, to how we listen, right down to emotional or sexual betrayal. The rule of thumb is this. If you wouldn’t like it done to you, don’t say it or do it. Reach into the magic hat and pull out new ways of communicating. If you don’t want your words or actions viewed by people you care about, it’s a sure sign to stop and find an alternative. If you truly feel you don’t want to be around someone, reassess how much time you spend together,  or walk away and consider how or if it serves either of you to stay connected.

5. We don’t take self-responsibility and explore what gets activated in us when we feel hurt and angry.

If you consistently use anger as a first response, see if hurt lies underneath it. Be aware of what is likely to trigger you. Are you hungry, lonely, tired or unresourced? Did you step over your own boundary and seek engagement when you would’ve fared better taking time out? Do you need more solitude and self-care? Was it the right time or place? Did you filter your responses? Did you focus on the issue at hand rather than personally attack another? Did you think “If I say this, in this way, what is the likely consequence?”

In summary, 5 ways to do it right? Stay centered, calm, curious, compassionate and look for creative solutions.

7 Ways To Begin To Renovate Your Life.

14 Mar

 

circling-horses-prints

Circling Horses by Cassia Beck

If life feels stale around the edges, a lot of stuff is going wrong, others are being critical and competitive, friendships seem to be falling to the curb like flies, and normal activities begin to feel like swimming through thick fog, it could to time to change things up.

Often people will grin and bear it, grit their teeth, grind their teeth at night, and push on regardless, which is fine for a short time, just not a long time as it can compound the difficulties. Sometimes what we resist persists. When negativity outweighs positivity and it’s closing in on you from the outside and you have taken personal responsibility, searched deep within and tried many things that just aren’t working, or no one is listening or supporting you, or worse still blaming you, close the door and open another. Sometimes it’s actually not your fault. Sometimes you wake up and realise that you aren’t surrounded by your tribe. Or you realise that your shine and sparkle is being dulled in order to make someone else feel more adequate. Step away from determination and move closer to joy.

  1. Face up to the discomfort. Is the negativity in your situation beginning to change who you are or how you sound? Are you getting tired of not having your feelings and experience validated? Chances are you aren’t around the right people or you aren’t where you need to be, to shine.
  2. Don’t wait for permission. You always know deep down what is best for you. What other people think about you, is of no concern. Everyone has their own agenda. People may want to keep you close for many reasons that have no positive outcome for you.
  3. Look to nature for inspiration. Stop and breathe and know that there are dark times. Those times nurture new beginnings and allow inspiration to rise.
  4. Trust that something better is around the corner. Adventure is exciting. It’s good for your brain. Opportunity exists. Destiny calls.
  5. Celebrate all your victories. Remember all the good stuff you have done, the fabulous connections you made and the lives you changed for the better.
  6. Concentrate on gains rather than losses. Try not to fret or regret. If for example you have to sell a property you love, pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you put in and know that’s why you are reaping the rewards.
  7. Feel the fear, have faith and do it anyway. Make plans to get on a new merry go round and have faith that everything will turn out fabulously.

 

 

Reasons Why, For Dry July.

4 Jul

Reposting from http://www.womansday.co.nz/health-diet/health/2015/6/the-benefits-of-taking-a-break-from-alcohol/

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Here’s how Dry July could benefit your own health as well as those you’re fundraising for

Dry July encourages participants to go alcohol-free for a month to raise funds for adults living with cancer, but the benefits of doing the challenge don’t stop there.

Leanne French, a relationship therapist and addictions counsellor, says taking a break from the booze could have a positive impact on your health and mental wellbeing.

“Drinking even small amounts of alcohol often can make you feel tired and depressed,” says Ms French, who has been a counsellor for over 25 years.

“One of the biggest benefits from taking a break is that people feel healthier and better in the morning, and have more energy, which naturally leads on to doing other healthy things, like eating better food and exercising.”

There’s also the ‘feel-good factor’ associated with setting yourself a goal and achieving it, and that can help improve your self-esteem. Not only that, going alcohol-free for a month could give you the opportunity to improve your relationships with the loved ones in your life.

“Drinking and recovering from drinking can be selfish. It can shut other people out and make you less physically and emotionally available to your partner,” Ms French says.

“Taking a break means you can assess whether this is happening, and may change your attitude to alcohol if it’s something that is having an impact on your relationship with a loved one.”

For more information on Dry July, visit their website.

Image: Getty

Other media releases http://www.nzwomansweekly.co.nz/health-home/health/reaping-the-benefits-of-dry-july/

http://gemsofgorgeousness.com/5-reasons-to-do-dry-july/