Back to School!

September is synonymous with back-to-school time. Long after you’ve graduated, it’s hard not to feel the appeal of the fresh new school year that starts each September. The back-to-school advertisements start (far too early!) in the summer and remind everyone—even those who are not students—that the new school year is fast approaching.

 

With all the anticipation over new school supplies, different classes, reconnecting with old friends, and meeting new teachers, September is tinged with excitement.

 

the back of a yellow school bus

 

For some people though, September comes with a whole new set of challenges.  Those who are squeezed into the sandwich generation can feel the extra pressure that the school year brings.

 

The sandwich generation includes those who are caught between caring for their children, while simultaneously providing care to their ageing parents.  Those feeling the crunch in September are likely even members of the club-sandwich generation: mothers who have young children at home who are providing help to their parents and their grandparents at the same time.

 

Club sandwich members are lucky enough to be in families who have four living generations at the same time.  Their young children are the youngest generation, the hectic mother is the second youngest.  The grandmother may be in her 60’s or 70’s and the great-grandmother in her 80’s or 90’s.

 

The young mother is caught between raising her young children, getting them out the door on the first day of school and being there for them when they step off the bus at the end of the day and also helping her mother to care for the elderly great-grandmother whose needs have suddenly increased.

 

September may represent a time of excitement and fresh beginnings for many people, but for this sandwich generation young mother, it may mean increased stress and an even more hectic schedule as she’s attempting to ferry children to after school activities, help with homework, and also deliver meals to her nanna across town.

 

Those in the throes of the club sandwich generation need support to manage the needs of so many generations at once.  The help can take many different forms—extended family and friends, a nanny for childcare, a driver to chauffer children to all their activities, or a caregiver to support great-grandmother Nanna.

 

A professional caregiver can provide the support that Nanna needs, while also alleviating pressure off the young mother who is hoping to get her children’s school year off to a good start. September can be a time of exciting new beginnings for Nanna too!  She can look forward to meeting friendly caregivers who will become new friends. 

 

Who in your family or circle of friends might benefit from the back-to-school excitement of September by engaging the support of a professional caregiver?

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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 ones, 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!

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