Your mother hasn’t been going out as much lately. She even declined a few outings with you recently, which is unlike her. Then you noticed a pair of soiled underwear shoved behind the toilet…and another soiled pair under the bathroom sink.
What she may be hiding is trouble with urinary continence. She may be feeling embarrassed and is trying to hide it, or if she has dementia, she may be confused about how to cope with this new change.
There are many possible reasons and treatments for urinary incontinence. Ensure your mother sees her doctor and speaks openly about what she is experiencing. Many causes of incontinence can be addressed medically, and those should be addressed immediately.
You may be able to suggest some lifestyle adjustments that will help to support your mother’s bladder, rather than irritate it. Read our other blog that addresses natural ways to support the bladder. If your mother has dementia though, the source of her challenge may be related more to her functional abilities than to her bladder directly.
As your mother’s dementia advances, she may not be as responsive to the signals her body is sending. By the time she realizes that her bladder needs relief, it may be too late to respond and she may not be making it to the washroom in time.
Another challenge can be complicated clothing. Buttons, snaps, zippers or belts may be proving a challenge in the washroom. The more barriers there are to quick washroom use, the more likely your mother is to be slowed down and not make it in time. Be especially aware of skirts or dresses with back closures since it may not be self-evident how to undo the zipper. Modified and accessible clothing may make it easier for your mother to be quick and self-sufficient in the washroom. Drawstring or elastic-waistbands are often the easiest to manage.
If your mother’s dementia is advanced, it is possible she is confused about where to find the washroom. Washrooms are not always easy to find, especially for someone with dementia. Often, washroom doors remain closed, even when unoccupied. Someone with dementia may not think to open closed doors to see what is behind the door. They may not have an intuitive sense of where a bathroom is likely to be located within a home or apartment. Although she may have lived in the same home for years, or decades even, dementia can cloud her memory and obscure what was once familiar. If she cannot easily find the washroom, she will not make it in time when nature calls.
Once she is able to locate the washroom, she may be confused about what to do once she’s in there. For some people with advanced dementia, the washroom can feel very confusing and overwhelming. If the toilet seat lid is down, the toilet may not look familiar. A white toilet and white sink may look very similar and can be confusing. A wastepaper basket may seem more familiar and is often mistaken for the toilet itself.
Sometimes people attempt to sit down facing the toilet, rather than with their back to the toilet tank, as it is typically used. Because it feels so unusual when facing backwards, there is no long-term memory to cue what to do next. It can also be dangerous since balance is impacted and there is a risk of falling.
If someone needs cueing through each step of toileting, their apparent challenges with incontinence may be more related to functional abilities and less so to their bladder or bowel function. They may be able to hold their bladder or bowel and may even be aware of when they need a washroom, but the confusion sets in with how to use the washroom. If someone is experiencing functional decline, various support measures can be implemented to promote independent washroom use.
Cue cards can be helpful for those who can read and interpret directions. If your mother is inclined to read instructions and follow the directions, a cue card in the washroom to cue each step may be helpful. In some cases, colour coding the toilet seat vs. the sink can be helpful. Contrasting colours can make it easier to see which item is which. If cue cards and colour coding are insufficient, your mother may need a caregiver to cue her through each step of the toileting process.
When functional ability is preventing someone from toileting successfully, look for which step is causing the confusion, or which component of mobility is posing the challenge.
By solving that specific component, you can help support someone to toilet as independently as possible. Engaging the support of a professional caregiver may also help in identifying precisely where the needs exist. For more ideas on supporting independent toileting and continence, contact us at Warm Embrace Elder Care.
Talking about your bladder may not be appropriate at a dinner party, and yet it’s an important topic! Many people experience a “leaky bladder” and struggle with a frequent and urgent need to urinate.
There are many possible causes and treatments for urinary incontinence or frequent need to urinate. Anyone who is experiencing incontinence at any level—even minor “bladder leakage”—should discuss it with their doctor. Sadly, only 25% of those with incontinence seek medical assistance. People often feel embarrassed or think that it’s just a part of ageing. If you find yourself, or someone you know, feeling like you suddenly have to go and you don’t have enough warning, talk to your doctor!
In addition to seeking medical attention, there are some tricks that may help you to support your bladder rather than fight it.
Drink more water
This sounds crazy. If you’re having trouble with your bladder, the last thing you want to do is flood your bladder with more liquid. But it can help!
When someone is worried about making it to the bathroom on time, they often start to limit their fluid intake. They drink less because they don’t want to urinate frequently, or they’re afraid they won’t make it to the washroom in time. What they don’t realize, is that they’re actually making the issue worse.They are aggravating their bladder even more.
Concentrated urine irritates the bladder. The more concentrated the urine, the more desperately the bladder wants to dispose of the urine. Since urine is flushing toxins out of your kidneys, concentrated urine is full of toxins and your body is designed to get rid of those toxins quickly. Even a small amount of concentrated urine will irritate the bladder and signal the need to urinate.
Diluted urine, on the other hand, does not irritate the bladder. The more liquid you put in the bladder, the more diluted the toxins from the kidneys. The bladder can hold a surprising amount of diluted urine without feeling the same strong urge to urinate.
If someone is chronically dehydrated, it will take a little while for their bladder to adjust to being suddenly flooded with a lot more liquid. But soon enough, the bladder will accept the increased volume and may not trigger the need for washroom use quite as frequently.
Alcohol, Caffeine & Artificial Sweeteners
The bladder is sensitive to other irritants as well. Alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners are all bladder irritants. You’re probably not surprised that alcohol irritates the bladder; there is typically a long washroom line up at any bar! And caffeine may not be surprising either. Have you ever noticed how badly you need the washroom after your morning coffee or tea? The lingering caffeine may continue to irritate your bladder, even after you’ve been to the washroom already.
The irritant that you may find more surprising is artificial sweeteners. From packets of sweet-n-low to processed foods labelled as ‘diet’ that contain sucralose or other artificial sweeteners, these non-sugar sweeteners can irritate the bladder and cause frequent urination. Drinking so-called-diet soda might be adding lots of fluid, but the artificial sweetener in that soda may cause your bladder to want to release it quickly! Aim to reduce or remove all artificial sweeteners.
To further support bladder health and prevent an overactive bladder, reduce caffeine intake, abstain from alcohol, and check all medications for side effects.
Medication Side Effects
Be sure to check all medications for side effects. Increased urination, or increased urge to urinate is a common medication side effect. If any of your medications list this side effect, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possibly switching to a different version of medication that may not have the same side effects.
It is always worth having your pharmacist review all your medications. It is possible that the combination of numerous medications has caused a side effect that is not listed on any particular medication but taken in combination, new side effects can occur.
Be sure to review ALL medications, vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medications that you are taking. Natural supplements can have side effects too! Natural does not mean ‘no side effects’. Have your pharmacist review everything that you’re taking and have them make recommendations on what you might adjust to limit the impact on your bladder.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing the frequent need to urinate, start by scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Urinary incontinence can greatly impact the quality of life; it is worth seeking medical assistance to ensure every possible source of incontinence is checked.
In the meantime, go for the low-hanging fruit! Drinking more water and reducing caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners are relatively easy treatments to implement: they don’t cost anything, and have numerous other health benefits as well. It doesn’t hurt to try increasing water intake as a way to reduce urinary incontinence or frequent washroom use.
Be sure to review your medications, supplements and vitamins with your pharmacist to look for any possible side-effects or medication interactions.
Now go fill a large glass of water and ‘CHEERS!’ to a healthy bladder!
Nurses Week is celebrated every year in May. This year let's go above and beyond to show our appreciation to our local nurses. During this time, our nurses are our frontline heroes. They are putting in long hours at hospitals, clinics, retirement homes, long term care homes, etc. They are working to keep you and I safe during these times, and that's why we – as the community – should express our appreciation.
Let's work together to celebrate our nurses! Here are 6 ways you can celebrate Nurses Week!
1. Write a heartfelt card
You can write encouraging thank you cards to nurses at your local hospital and long term care homes.
2. Mail a grocery store gift card
Why not leave a little present inside the card? You can pre-order grocery store gift cards online or the next time you're at the grocery store, pick up a couple of gift cards.
3. Bake or cook a homemade meal
If you know a nurse personally, make him/her a warm home cooked meal or some delicious baked goods. It'll be one less task they'll to do once they're home from a long workday.
4. Donate Personal Protective Equipment
If you're crafty, sew masks for nurses and if you're not, you can always donate to an organization that's distributing PPE. Keep it local and donate to local organizations and businesses.
5. Join a community celebration
You can join an organized parade to celebrate nurses at the local hospital.
If you live on a busy street, start a poster campaign with your neighbours! Create large posters that say "Thank you!" and display them on your porch, lawn or bay window. As frontline workers drive-by they can read your poster.
6. Praise their hard work on social media
Post an appreciation post on your personal social media account! If you are looking for social media content like and share our material from our Facebook page.
Let's work together to show our frontline heroes how much we appreciate their hard work. Let's go beyond words of appreciation, let's take action. Comment and share on how you are going to celebrate Nurses Week!
This year Mother's Day may look and feel different but that doesn't mean it is cancelled! You can still make Mother's Day special for your mom, mother-in-law, grandmother, or friend. This Sunday celebrate Mother's Day with some creativity.
Here are 6 ways you can celebrate Mother's Day this year.
1. Buy your mom flowers
You can't go wrong with flowers! You can buy a lovely bouquet of spring flowers or even a potted plant for your mom. Make sure to write a heartfelt card to make it even more special! To be extra safe during these times, make sure to leave the flowers by the front door and give your mom a call to tell her that a special delivery is waiting for her.
2. Bake or cook your mom's favourite dish
Encourage your mom to take a break from cooking onMother's Day by cooking her favourite dish. You can leave a nice homecooked meal at her front door, or you can leave her favourite baked goods. If you aren't much of a cook that is okay! Why not support a local restaurant or business? You can put in the order for your mom and ask them to deliver the dish directly to your mom. It's the perfect day to spoil your mom!
3. Make a homemade gift
Remember that quilt or sewing project that you never quite finished? Or that scrapbook that needs some final stickers? This is the perfect time to finish it up for your mom! Get your kids or grandkids involved by having them make homemade drawings or cards.
4. Schedule a safe social-distancing visit
It's about social distancing, not social isolating. You can still visit your mom from a safe distance. Perhaps behind a window or screen door, in the garage, or outside in the yard. If she is hard of hearing, speak loud and clear or why not make a fun poster for her that says "Happy Mother's Day" in a large bolded font.
5. Plan a fun creative surprise
Get your whole family involved and plan a surprise from a safe distance for your mom. If you’re a musical family, surprise her with live music and song. If you’re poetic and theatrical, write her a heartfelt poem and/or perform a play just for her. If you're crafty, make some fun posters or banners to brighten up your mom's day. I am sure your mom will appreciate your effort and love!
6.Tea time on a video call
If your mom is tech-savvy, schedule a video call to have a special tea time chat. Take this time to reconnect with your mom by reminiscing on childhood memories and on happy lighthearted memories. Most importantly don't forget to tell her how much you love her and appreciate her! Words of kindness and appreciation can go a long way!
Your mom is probably feeling isolated during these times so don't cancel Mother's Day this year! Instead, make it extra special for her. Comment below and share with us how you're going to celebrate your mom. We hope you have a lovely Mother's Day!
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the special mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers out there!
When a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic illness or a degenerative disease, the diagnosis affects the whole family. It is easy to overlook the ways in which other family members are also impacted by chronic illness because the focus is upon the person who is unwell.
In the flurried rush of attempting to care for the person with the new diagnosis, families are often unaware that the emotional response they are experiencing is grief. People sometimes assume that grief only applies if there has been a death in the family, but people experience grief from many types of losses.
Grief is our human response to a loss. It is primarily an emotional response, but it can also have other dimensions too (physical, cognitive, social, spiritual, etc.). When a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness, family members may grieve. For many family members, the grief is complicated by the fact that they are still in the throes of family caregiving, and they may be expected to remain “the strong one” for the sake of the family.
Grief is not a linear process that moves predictably through various stages. While there may be stages to grief, those stages are not sequential; there is no graduation from one step to the next. Each individual may experience various elements of grief at different times and remain with one stage for a long time, or they may move through various stages rapidly all within one day. There is no correct way to grieve, and there is no such thing as “failing at grief”. It is an individual journey and process for each person.
There can be triggers for grief, and those triggers are as individual as the grief process. A trigger could be something like hearing a favourite song that you once danced to with your spouse, and grieving that your spouse can no longer dance. A trigger might also be a daily routine that has suddenly become difficult, and grieving the loss of ability or independence that changes gradually.
For many families, there is grief over the loss of a role within the family. It might be the role of primary provider if employment is reduced; it might be the role of fix-it-man around the house and no longer being able to operate tools; it might be the role of coordinating family events and family members feel scattered and disconnected. The change of roles and responsibilities can be a difficult transition and grieving those changes is a normal—even healthy and expected—response.
Grieving is an action. It requires effort and work. The goal of grief is not “to get over it”. Unfortunately, many families feel that the message from friends and sometimes even health care professionals is that they should “get over it” or “get back to normal.” When a family member is coping with a chronic illness, returning to “normal” is no longer an option.
The previous version of normal doesn’t exist. Illness has redefined what normal will be like. The goal is to adjust to a new normal—adjusting to the illness as a new reality of life, and recognizing that this will alter many aspects of life. Once families have begun to adjust to their new normal, they can begin to see hope for a newly defined future.
Instead of looking for a reason that the illness is present within the family, seeking meaning can be a lot more helpful. Seeking meaning is looking for a silver lining—acknowledging that a difficult situation is the reality, but perhaps there can be some wonderful moments that are significant.
While this may seem like a subtle shift in mentality, it can result in vastly different feelings. Looking for reasons suggests that someone had to experience the illness in order to learn a certain lesson; looking for meaning is acknowledging that the illness has happened, and finding glimmers of hope will make the journey more meaningful.
How can you best support someone who may be grieving because of an unwell family member?
The most important thing you can do is to remain connected. Family caregivers constantly report that their closest friends and even other family members distance themselves because they don't know how to help, or they don’t want to impose.
One gentleman laments that while his wife was palliative, she had so few visitors. She felt the greatest relief from pain while a visitor was present, and her husband expressed this to friends and family, but few visitors came to the house because they did not want to impose. Visitors weren’t seen as an imposition, but as a welcome relief.
The greatest thing you can do is to ask how you can best be supportive, and then LISTEN! Truly listen.
Allow family members to tell you what they need and what they want. Most of all, they will appreciate a listening ear who acknowledges their challenges and validates their feelings and experiences. Pre-judging or assuming what someone is thinking/feeling is not helpful.
A woman remarked that the comment “but you look so well!” (or that her husband, for whom she cares, “looks so well”) to not be helpful. While it is intended as a compliment, it shuts down any conversation about how she is truly feeling. She would prefer that someone just ask her how she is feeling, and be open to a conversation.
To best support someone else, be a listening ear and don’t distance yourself. Remember that the person with the illness as well as the whole family is adjusting to a new sense of normal.
Be wary of judgmental statements such as “things happen for a reason”, and instead help others to see some of the meaningful moments that have touched you and might also touch them.
How is someone with dementia impacted by COVID-19?
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
I think it’s safe to say that COVID-19 has thrown everyone a curveball. In a matter of a few short weeks, our society as we know it has been completely altered. And while it may only have been a few short weeks, it somehow feels like it’s been much longer. Routines are completely upended, we’re all glued to the news and social media updates, and we’re attempting to keep up with the constantly changing guidelines and recommendations. For you and I, it can feel exhausting and tiresome.
How does it feel for someone who has dementia?
Depending upon which stage of dementia someone is in, their ability to fully comprehend the pandemic will be impacted. For someone in the very early stages of dementia, they may be managing to live independently but may require notes posted on every door reminding them to remain at home.
For someone who is much more progressed in their dementia journey, such notes would not be effective. Attempting to comprehend a world-wide pandemic would be quite difficult, if not impossible. You and I may have difficulty fully comprehending the scope and impact of COVID-19, and we have the benefit of our brain still providing executive functioning with insight and reasoning and processing. For someone whose dementia has impaired their brain functions, it is not fair to ask their brain to process information that requires interconnected executive functions.
For someone with advanced dementia, comprehending the pandemic is further complicated by the fact that there is no context for a global pandemic that is easily relatable. They do not have life experience that is easily understood. The closest comparison would have been the Spanish Influenza, but even that was before their lifetime, or certainly before their own lived experience and memory. While they may have heard stories from their parents, it is unlikely that the long-term memory would be vivid enough to remain without lived experience to coalesce the memory.
So, for those with advanced dementia, trying to understand a global pandemic is very challenging. But that does not mean that they are unaffected by the information of the pandemic, as we all are.
While the facts of the pandemic might be difficult to comprehend, people with dementia are often highly attuned to emotions. The content of a conversation or a news story may be difficult to follow, but the underlying emotions are abundantly evident. So, while a person with dementia may not be able to recite the number of local cases or even recognize that people are sick in the hospital, what they can feel is the anxiety, nervousness, sense of helplessness and fear of the unknown.
These emotions are evident on newscasts and probably seep through your own interactions more than you realize. If you’re discussing the pandemic with someone else, your brain is distracted by the content of the conversation—the number of cases, which protocol has been updated, what to do next. You may be subliminally processing some level of emotion, but the content of the conversation has your brain focused on facts more than emotion.
Someone with dementia who is observing that conversation is experiencing it quite differently. Their brain is not able to process the facts; they are left strictly observing and absorbing the emotions. They are reading the uncertainty and fear; they can hear the anxiety and stress. They recognize and may begin to reflect these emotions, but do not recognize the source of the emotions and cannot connect it to the pandemic.
Just because someone does not remember the details around the pandemic does not mean that they are failing to process the situation. They are processing all the emotions that you are; they are just missing the context for the cause of the emotions…which makes the emotions even more upsetting.
It is important to recognize that the emotional experience is always valid—whether someone has dementia or not. The emotions are always real, even if the source of the emotion is not fully understood. Even though your loved one does not know the latest update about COVID-19, they are likely still processing many complex emotions and need your reassurance now more than ever.
Families require professionals who are trained and equipped to assist those with dementia during difficult times like these. Caregivers to the elderly are an essential service and can continue to provide professional dementia support. For more information on how to support a loved one through this crisis, please contact us at 519 954 2480.
When self-isolating at home, have you found yourself scrolling through random online updates more often than you want to admit? If so, you’ve probably seen articles and posts about parents who are going crazy being cooped up with their children for weeks on end. Both the parents and the children are feeling the strain.
It isn’t just the parents of young children who are feeling the parent-child relationship strain. It can be felt at all ages but is showing up particularly strongly for those who have been thrust into a caregiving role that is more extensive than they anticipated.
Adult children of ageing parents who have dementia or other high-care needs may suddenly find many of their regular support systems removed. The Adult Day Program that your mother attended a few days weekly is now closed; her regular social groups at the church have shut down; even the PSW who usually comes to bathe her has not been coming. Your mother’s schedule is in upheaval and you have become the primary—and only—caregiver.
It can be pretty overwhelming to suddenly find yourself in the full-time position of caring for someone with dementia. While you’re happy to help sometimes on some days, being the only support person day after day is wearing you out and you’re starting to feel the strain.
It is okay to admit that, just like your mother, you’ve experienced a massive upheaval in your schedule and routine, with newly added responsibilities. And though you may be tempted to think “I’m not working at the moment so I should be fully available to care for mom,” providing 24/7 dementia support is more than one full-time job.
Providing care to a loved one with dementia is more than just physically taxing. It can be emotionally exhausting as well. There are certainly very meaningful moments with laughter and joy, but when it is your parent or your spouse whom you’ve known for decades, it will undoubtedly be emotionally exhausting as well.
Just because you are home at the moment and may not be working does not mean that you are equipped to provide 24/7 dementia care. It is okay to acknowledge that sometimes, a professional is required and someone who is not related to your mother may be better able to provide the assistance she needs right now.
Fortunately, caregivers to the elderly are essential and permitted to continue caring for seniors. Here at Warm Embrace, we continue to serve our longstanding clients and we are also equipped to help families who are now finding themselves in need of more care.
Everyday communication is important for our elderly population, certainly more so during these isolating times. Bill Walsh from AARP said: “At this moment in time, we’re not just combating the coronavirus, but we’re combating fear and anxiety and social isolation as well. So, it’s important to stay in touch with your loved ones and let them know that they haven’t been cut off or somehow marginalized.”
A quick traditional phone call is always lovely but why not introduce unique devices or new apps to your loved one? Your loved one’s interest in technology might surprise you. A study completed in 2017, discovered that 70% of seniors are now online and from 2013 to 2016 tablet ownership in seniors doubled. I know when chatting with our clients, I am always surprised to find out how many of them use Facebook, Facetime, Apple apps, Furbo, etc.
There are unique ways you can virtually connect with your loved one! We have compiled a list of the four best ways to virtually connect.
1) Videocall your loved one
If your loved one has a WIFI connection, a smartphone and an email address, they’re already three steps ahead! There are several apps you can use to video call your loved one – Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Google Duo, WhatsApp – just to name a few. I recommend keeping the conversation at a maximum of three people. It increasingly becomes difficult to hear with additional people, especially if people are talking at the same time!
Traditional phone calls are wonderful and always appreciated but video calls are more interactive. In a video call, you can see your loved one’s facial expressions and body language. You can even get creative with video calls! On a call, you can virtually share a cup of tea, you could try puzzling together, or you could even start a craft together. It doesn’t have to be a traditional conversation it could be a time to engage your loved one in a fun activity.
2) Play an online game with your loved one
If your loved one doesn’t want to be on video but wants to interact virtually, you can introduce online games. There are apps where you can compete against your loved one, such as words with friends, chess, scrabble, billiards, etc. There’s an endless amount of options in the Apple store and in the Google Play store. You are bound to find a game that looks interesting and fun!
3) Watch a movie together
Who doesn’t love movies?! Pop some popcorn and watch a movie with your loved one. Netflix released a new feature called Netflix party for desktop computers. It allows you to synchronize video playback and adds a group chat between yourself and your loved one. This is a great tool for a fun family gathering! You can add the grandkids to the party as well, and it can become a weekly ritual.
If your loved one doesn’t have Netflix or a computer, you can always video call your loved one as you both watch the same TV channel or DVD. Another option is simply calling your loved one on the phone. Even though watching a movie is generally done quietly, it’s comforting knowing that you are with someone and sharing the moment with someone you love.
4) Visit a furry friend on Furbo
Furbo is a camera that’s designed for dogs. It’s a neat device that allows owners to check in on their pets remotely. There is also a microphone so dogs can even hear their owner’s voice commands.
We have a client – let’s call her Jeanie - who loves receiving visits from her daughter’s dog Buddy. When chatting with Jeanie, I was happy to discover that she’s been visiting her daughter’s dog virtually on Furbo. Through the app on her smartphone, she is able to talk to Buddy, see what trouble he is up to and throw him treats by clicking a button.
Throughout my conversation with Jeanie, I could sense how happy she was to have the chance to interact with Buddy. Even her regular caregiver mentioned how Jeanie brightens up after interacting with Buddy on Furbo. The moments she is interacting with Buddy not only make her laugh and smile but they also provide Jeanie comfort and peace.
It might take a few tries to get your loved one comfortable with technology but the time and patience to teach them is worth it. Your elderly loved one will thank you for giving them the opportunity to connect. During this difficult season, we might have to socially distant but we don’t have to socially isolate.
From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank all of our incredible caregivers who are front-line heroes during this COVID-19 crisis. Every day, our caregivers continue to serve the clients who need them most.
Our caregivers are absolutely essential. Without their help, some of our elderly clients would not be able to get out of bed, or use the washroom, or cook a meal. It is our caregivers who help these clients to maintain their daily routine and ensure their most critical needs are met.
One of our clients, whom we’ll call Viola, is 99 years old and lives in her own home. She needs daily assistance and desperately wants to remain living at home instead of moving into a group setting at a time like this. Viola is lucky enough to have her son living nearby, and he usually visits her daily to ensure she has her medications and a proper meal. However, Viola’s son is a senior himself and he has an immune disorder. He cannot visit his mother at all right now as he is strictly self-isolating.
Fortunately, our wonderful caregivers are filling the need by taking care of Viola on a daily basis, helping with everything her son once did. Viola is thriving with daily visits and her son has peace-of-mind knowing that his mother’s medications are on track and she is eating well, even in his absence. Viola’s son called to tell us how relieved he is feeling, and the emotion was palpable even over the phone!
Our services are truly essential to so many elderly individuals in this community. We serve some individuals 24/7 and provide necessary assistance like bathing, dressing and help getting in and out of bed. Our amazing caregivers are the ones that can make that happen!
Thank you to our caregivers: you are more than essential; you are front-line heroes who continue to make a difference in our community, each and every day. Thank you for all that you are doing to support seniors; we appreciate your sacrifices and your diligent care to the seniors we serve. We appreciate you and everything you’re doing!
When you break down the format of everyday conversation, you might be surprised how much it tends to be an exchange of facts. We’re often using the old-fashioned newspaper reporter method of the W’s: who, what, where and when. Sometimes we also include the “why” and “how”, but often it’s just the first four W’s.
Conversation tends to report on who did what with whom, where they went and when. We depend on each other to convey those “facts” in an accurate way, and we equate that with telling the “truth”. Since we tend to consider “truth” as a value, we place a lot of importance on conveying facts accurately.
The reality is that any of us is only ever conveying our perspective, our experience of the world, our interpretation of events. You know the old saying….” if there are 10 eyewitnesses, there are 10 different accounts”. I might even argue that you’d get 11 or 12 different accounts with 10 eyewitnesses! We each have our own understanding of events or recollection of past events.
Oftentimes, a conversation that includes sharing past memories becomes an exercise of correcting each other’s recollections of the “facts” or telling the “truth”. When different narratives emerge, a lot of effort is spent trying to reconcile those different narratives, assuming only one can be correct; or that details of each need to be merged and one variation decided upon.
The focus on “facts” and telling the “truth” makes conversation very difficult for those with dementia.
Recalling the first 4 W’s is tough: who, what, where and when. When someone’s brain has been impacted by dementia, their ability to recall precise details is impaired. Short term memory no longer encodes details into long term memory. When someone attempts to retrieve the details a few hours or days later, the information is no longer there since it was not encoded into long term memory.
Long term memory that was established decades ago may remain as the strongest memory. Eventually, even long term memories are impacted by the progression of dementia. When those memories are affected, it will be the details and the “facts” of the memory that are first at risk. Someone will continue to remember the feeling associated with a memory, but they can’t necessarily recall who was present, or when it occurred, or where exactly it was. They’re more likely to remember the “why” or the “how” of the event because those elements are typically more connected with the feelings of an event.
When trying to recall a memory, and someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s has an impression of the “why” or “how” of an event, their brain may fill in the gaps on some of the missing “facts” of the story to help it make sense. Their brain may provide a missing “who” or supply the “when” of the story—and those details do not line up with your recollection of the event.
In fact, those supplied details may not line up with the version of the story that the person told yesterday. Each time they retell the story, their brain may have to supply a different missing detail.
Instead of focusing on the “facts” of the story, focus on the feelings.
Don’t worry about correcting the details that may have different from the last telling of the story.
Don’t contradict the details or get worried about the “accuracy” of the story.
Do listen to the “why” and the “how” of the story that starts to emerge.
Let your loved one explore their memory and remember that they are trying to put words to an emotional experience. The emotion of the memory may remain strong, but finding the words to express it can be difficult. If the details they supply keep being corrected by someone else, they may stop trying to articulate what they’re feeling.
Stop and consider: what is the purpose of this conversation?
If it is a nice conversation between you and a parent, then enjoy it for all it is worth! Savour the clear moments, find the emotion underneath the words, and use it as an opportunity to connect. Correcting “facts” will only inhibit the purpose of this conversation—which is to create a connection and convey love and caring.
If it is a conversation with your loved one’s family doctor, then the purpose of the conversation is different. Suddenly, the facts of a particular symptom are critical. In this case, having correct “facts” truly is the purpose of the conversation and being focused on precision is important.
When you consider the purpose of a conversation, you can remain focused on what matters most. If exchanging factually correct information isn’t the point of the conversation, then don’t worry about correcting facts!
If the purpose is to create enjoyment for your loved one, you can achieve that by supporting their feelings and their recollections. Focus on the feelings, not the facts and you’ll find conversations far more enjoyable!