Saturday, November 21, 2015

Visiting Someone With Alzheimer’s: Emotions Without Memories (Research)

During my years as a hospice volunteer in nursing homes, I have spent a lot of time with people who had Alzheimer’s disease. It was not unusual for me to sit at a lunchroom table for eight and be the only one there without Alzheimer’s. I not only learned a lot from them, I became a better person as a direct result of my observations and our unique exchanges. Without realizing it, they refined my mastery of thinking outside the box by taking me weekly to an Oz I respected. One thing I know for sure is that the mind is complex, unpredictable, and closely connected to quality of life.

I thought about this when I read Alzheimer’s research about emotions that people with the disease have long after memories that caused those feelings have disappeared. A sample of 17 participants with probable Alzheimer’s disease and 17 healthy comparison participants underwent separate emotion induction procedures in which they watched film clips. The clips were intended to induce feelings of sadness or happiness. An evaluation of the emotions later revealed that participants with Alzheimer’s had severely impaired memory of both the sad and happy films. But they continued to report high levels of persisting sadness and happiness beyond their memory of the actual films. The sadness associated with the sad films lasted more than 30 minutes.

This research reminds us that the emotional lives of individuals with Alzheimer's can be greatly influenced by experiences, people, and places they do not recall. Caregivers and others must be sensitive to this when managing, interpreting, and responding to behaviors of those with Alzheimer’s. Loved ones who avoid visiting them because “She doesn’t know who I am” or “I can’t deal with his confusion” must be mindful that the purpose of their presence has nothing to do with anyone's ability to remember anything, including them. Visits should be focused on spending quality time generating emotions that help those with the disease feel better, knowing they are loved even after the visit has ended. Visitors can leave with satisfying personal memories of pleasant emotions they inspired.

The Alzheimer's Association website offers supportive communication tips and techniques for successful visits. Included are activities to do together and suggestions on how to respond to various behaviors. For many other services, a 24/7 Helpline is available at 1-800-272-3900.

1) Honoring a Nun Who Has Alzheimer's Dementia

You can read my tribute at the link below to a nun who positively impacted my life as a child and later developed and died from Alzheimer’s disease:

2) Children Learn About Dementia, Alzheimer's: School, Family Support (Video 3:51)

An educator who has been actively involved with introducing elementary-middle school children to the nursing home world and dementia for many years, I have always been impressed with the sensitive ways they embrace knowledge about this disease. Visit the link below to learn more about this form of teaching-learning called service-learning.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Your Person-Centered Holidays

Through the years, holidays often become associated with particular traditions that may include familiar people, places, rituals, foods, music, and more. It is easy to internalize that if all or most of these components are not present, then your holidays are lacking, not whole, certainly not person-centered. These feelings can lead to depression, helplessness about too many of your needs not being met.

Particularly troubling for some may be the adjustment to holiday customs after loved ones have died. In cases where memories remind you of traditions that are difficult to do without deceased loved ones, you may want to consider other ways you can better embrace the holidays. One option is to create new holiday practices. If holidays were celebrated as a family, new traditions can be planned as a family with input open to everyone. This will present opportunities to discuss feelings about the deceased and possibly include activities in the new traditions that commemorate the deceased in an uplifting manner. One example could be a memorial that adds pleasure to holidays in the future.

If you are a caregiver, be sure to consider your own needs in addition to your patient's needs. With a focus on the positive, you can create a workable plan to have holidays as stress-free as possible. This can be done by including the essentials of what you hope to accomplish and eliminating activities that add more worry and that are not really needed. You should encourage assistance from others and be mindful of balance in your own life. AARP suggests 10 holiday tips especially for caregivers.

Whatever situations the holidays bring, there is no one way of participation for everyone. There are different ways that work well for different people. Your choices should be respected and not judged negatively because they are not considered the norm. For those of you who find the holidays stressful, phony, or too commercial, you may want to redirect your holiday focus and participate in ways that are calmer and more meaningful to you. One example could be volunteering at places where you can be helpful to others.You may want to celebrate alone or socialize with one or two friends. Another choice could be taking a trip to a location you love or want to experience for the first time.

Whether celebrating the holidays alone, with others, or not at all, you should follow your heart with efforts to meet your own needs within the framework of your particular situation. Person-centered holidays can include activities that may or may not have anything to do with the holidays at all, but everything to do with your own quality of life. 

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Eight Tips for Healthcare Volunteer Success (Veterans Video 1:27)


Eight Tips for Healthcare Volunteer Success 

1)     Honor your win-win journey. You and your patients come together in relationships of mutual healing and growth.

2)     Be present with patients. Listen with your heart, and focus on improving their quality of life.

3)     Try different doors to reach them, especially those who have dementia. Let them help you navigate your way into their world.

4)     Know your piece in the puzzle. Make rules of etiquette and professional ethics routine.

5)     Untie your knots. Doubt, confusion, sadness, and guilt are part of caregiving. Seek support, and maintain balance in your own life.

6)     Pick up a turtle. If you see a turtle on a fence post, somebody helped to put it there. Be a positive role model for others.

7)     Write death sentences. Have your own end-of-life advance directives, finances, and property wishes recorded and available. 

8)     Expect rainbow smiles that hug you so tightly you feel ribs of joy press against your essence. That’s the greatness of volunteering! 
This video features healthcare volunteers sharing their stories of caregiving America’s veterans. Providing greatly needed and appreciated assistance, volunteers serve in places such as hospital wards, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, community-based volunteer programs, end-of-life programs, and respite care programs.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.