Monday, April 10, 2017

Learn As You Go

Linda and Ted, Caregivers
At line dancing class recently, we danced to the song, “Life Is a Dance.” As I listened to the words, “learn as you go,” I was reminded of my years as a caregiver. During the decade of Jim’s journey, I truly learned as I went along.

I certainly wasn’t a professional caregiver, nor did I ever believe I would ever be a caregiver for my husband. His Alzheimer’s type of dementia was a progressive disease where the caregiving became incrementally more difficult.

Becoming a competent caregiver involved a lot of baby steps. I learned the basics, sought out more refined information, and eventually I became creative. One thing  I learned early on was that a solution that worked one day, might not work the next day.

The physical part of caregiving—feeding, bathing, providing personal care—can be difficult, but it was the grief and emotional despair that I found the most difficult. The biggest struggle wasn’t how to coax Jim into a bathtub; it was the heartache of remembering a time when it was “you wash my back and I’ll wash yours.”

Often it’s the small losses that are hardest to accept. I expected to grieve big losses, but chided myself mentally for missing the companionable quiet moments. One of the things I missed the most was having coffee and conversation with Jim.

We caregivers learn as we go—learn how to handle behaviors. One of the challenges for caregivers is how to handle the baffling behavior brought on by a dying brain.

A three-step approach can be used to address behavior problems:

1.      Identify and examine the behavior. Is the behavior harmful to your loved one or others? If the answer is no, consider ignoring it. Your two most helpful tools are redirect and distract. To avoid behavior problems, think about what happened before the behavior and what happened immediately after. Could something have been done differently to avoid the problem? For example, if your loved one removed all his clothing, was he too warm? Was he wet? Was his clothing uncomfortable? Become a detective!
2.      Explore potential solutions. Was your loved one’s needs being met? Could surroundings be changed to make your loved one more comfortable? How could you have changed your reaction?
3.      Try different responses. Try to respond in a calm, supportive way. Your tone of voice and body language are more important than your words. Avoid treating your loved one like a child. Be respectful. If what you are trying doesn’t work, try something different.

When dealing with behavior, remain calm, patient, and flexible. You will have better luck if you respond to the emotion and not the behavior. Don’t argue with a person who has dementia. That is an argument you won’t win! Sometimes the cause of behavior is something as simple as a side effect of medication, or an illness. Jim became combative when a new physician gave him an antipsychotic drug. He reverted to his normal demeanor once the medication was stopped.

Caregivers learn as they go. Being a caregiver is one of life’s biggest challenges, but your reward is the knowledge that you have done everything possible to improve your loved one’s quality of life.

Copyright © April 2017 by L.S. Fisher

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