All posts by Kathy Dreyer

Putting Empathy to Work to Improve Communication

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately one-fifth (20%) U.S. adults will experience a significant problem with communication (e.g., speech, language, voice) and other conditions that affect balance, taste, and smell.

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month. While speech and hearing problems are not a condition that only affects older adults, age may play a role in making persons more likely to experience challenges with hearing, smell, taste, and balance. Experiencing a stroke can certainly increase the likelihood of challenges with mobility, speech, and comprehension. Dementia also affects the ability to communicate and understand. It is very important to provide support by wanting to communicate with a person in a way that works for them.

HOW DO WE IMPROVE COMMUNICATION?

A genuine desire to understand what a person is telling us is a start. Empathy is also a critical factor in cultivating caring support and communication. Several years ago, gerosensitivity classes were used to help people understand some of the age-related changes in vision and hearing. In some cases, those classes might have unintendedly caused more misunderstanding than support. To engender empathy, you must understand a person from how they see their world. This is especially true for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementias like Alzheimer’s disease rob a person of their ability to interpret their environment. Sensory challenges contribute to this problem. My grandmother had Lewy Body Syndrome in addition to macular degeneration and severe hearing loss. It was difficult to know what was causing her challenges, her vision, hearing deficit,  or her dementia. It took time and effort to help support her through the visions and fear. Thinking about what it must be like to struggle to hear, see and speak, it was a little bit easier to support her, guide her, and, most of all, support her.

WHERE DO WE START?

Thinking about the challenges faced by those who experience  effects of dementia and visual and auditory problems is a start. Walking a mile in their shoes helps. It’s helpful at a time when it’s easier to think that they are doing things on purpose. By trying to interpret a world through cloudy eyes, decreased hearing, and puzzled thoughts that are scary and unnerving, we can help those who cannot communicate in a way that our world requires. We can come to their world, which is important, in May, and in every other month of the year.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

Memorial Day: Honoring Heroes, Past and Present

Memorial Day is an annual remembrance of the brave, heroic individuals who gave their all in service to their country. We also remember their families who lost loved ones. During this time of COVID-19 quarantine, reflecting on heroes is even more appropriate.

WHAT IS A HERO?

During this COVID-19 quarantine, there are heroes among us who are brave. Health care workers serve tirelessly to provide care to those infected with COVID-19, in hospitals and long-term care. Family members, caring for loved ones at home. There are staff members in nonprofits working to provide support, both food and financial, for persons affected by COVID-19 through job loss or furlough. While these individuals are the obvious choice for hero status, other types of heroes are emerging.

A NEW BRAND OF HERO

While not as apparent, there are other heroic individuals less obvious and perhaps not considered as brave. There are the delivery drivers who are bringing food to families in order to help flatten the COVID-19 curve. People have been staying at home to minimize risks for contracting or spreading the corona virus. Grocery store employees have been working constantly to keep supplies on the shelf to support those staying at home. People are ordering meals to help support restaurants in staying open. There are many opportunities to be heroic.

BEING BRAVE

While there are many types and categories of heroes, on this day, we remember those who have given all. We also can reflect on those still serving in a different type of challenge. Those still supporting those who ill and vulnerable. Those individuals find a reason to keep on, who continuing to find the strength to be brave. With gratitude to Josh Groban, we thank you for being brave and for continuing to serve.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

The Relationship Between Mister Rogers And Caregiving

In the past few days, the internet in my house has been down. That has meant no television, no recorded shows, and no entertainment of any electronic kind. My recourse was to watch DVD movies. I rented “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” In the movie, Tom Hanks embodies Fred Rogers, the personable, gentle host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The movie’s plot focuses on his relationship with a journalist navigating challenges with his family while demonstrating the power of caring and forgiveness. The film also shows the importance of being fully present for and making connections with people. For these reasons, it is the perfect movie for helping to understand how to get through this COVID-19 pandemic.

CONNECTING MISTER ROGERS AND CAREGIVING

How does Mister Rogers factor in? He knew the importance of connecting with others and how to help them feel important. He took the time to make a difference. Informal and formal caregivers are doing that now more than ever. Family members care for loved ones at home while balancing work and family priorities. Confined at home, they do not get much of a break. Care partners in the nursing home support their residents as routines change and family members are not allowed to visit. Care partners are going above and beyond their normal responsibilities to pitch in as needed to keep things running smooth, providing additional emotional support to compensate for the changes and restrictions.

For the caregivers at home and in the nursing home, you are not alone. The work you are doing is valuable and noble. Even if you are experiencing compassion fatigue, exhaustion, and trials, remember that you are making a difference. Thankfully, this COVID-19 quarantine will end, and the challenges today will be different tomorrow.

WORDS OF WISDOM

In the film, Mister Rogers helped to create an environment of forgiveness, which is important now and when the COVID-19 quarantine ends. As caregivers, we need to remember to forgive ourselves if we fall short of our expectations and when we take time for ourselves. One quote that is attributed to Mister Rogers is “You can’t really love someone else unless you really love yourself first.” It’s always true in caregiving, and it is especially important for caregivers to remember as we continue to go through the COVID-19 restrictions.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com

Maintaining Bonds During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges. The economy is fluctuating, with a significant number of people becoming unemployed or being furloughed. The stress of not being able to spend face-to-face time with loved ones is difficult to manage. The quarantine challenges all of us to make changes and cope with being separated from family members, especially those living in long-term care communities. Given the isolation and loneliness that residents are likely to experience, it is more important than ever to maintain bonds and closeness however possible.

During times like these, how do you maintain bonds and closeness with family members living under the COVID-19 restrictions? Care communities are finding different ways to help family members stay in touch while maintaining safety and infection controls. This community created a special way for residents to connect with family members. Another communitiy found a way to help brighten a resident’s day.

Sending cards or notes is another good way to keep in touch. Also, sending a note of thanks to the community can also help encourage care partners. Providing a care package would also show support. Care partners are coping with the stress of supporting isolated residents while maintaining infection control procedures.

It is also crucial for all care partners, those in the long-term care community and family members, to also take care of themselves. As COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our economy and interaction with others, it is more important than ever to engage in self-care. The Family Caregiver Alliance has a great list of resources and articles. As every caregiver knows, you cannot take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself. Self-care will enable a caregiver to be more fully present and able to support and care for loved ones in the long-term care community, especially during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Kathy Dreyer, Ph.D., is the Director of Strategic Projects at AGE-u-cate® Training Institute, which develops and delivers innovative research-based aging and dementia training programs such as Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch®, for professional and family caregivers; kathy.dreyer@ageucate.com