Memory Care: Events are forgotten, but feelings linger

Feelings linger in memory care
Feelings linger.

For people in memory care, emotions may outlast memory of the event that triggered the emotion. This is according to a study by Justin Feinstein. In other words, if a person with dementia has a happy experience, say from a family visit, he will continue to feel happy for a period of time even though he forgets the actual visit. The same goes for sad or angry feelings. Memory care professionals sometimes question if their efforts have a lasting effect. Insight from this study suggests that yes, they do.

Families often avoid visiting loved ones with dementia, assuming that the visit won’t be remembered. They ask, So what difference does it make?  If emotion lingers even after the memory is gone, then it might make a big difference.

While the elder may not remember the visit, pleasurable feelings it elicits live on even though the person can’t say why she feels good. This is important information for families. Their visits positively impact quality of life—the feelings of connection lives on! Anyone with a loved one with dementia, perhaps the most important thing is to show up and create positive moments. Step outside in the sunshine, share music, hold hands, look at flowers.  Activities don’t need to be elaborate. Anything that creates pleasure may make a lasting difference.

As Maya Angelo says, “They won’t remember what you said but they’ll remember how you made them feel.”


Education – the Key to Empowerment for Senior Care Professionals

head keyYou’ve heard the expression Knowledge is Power.  When it comes to caring for an aging adult, the key to empowerment clearly resides in education.

Why is it then, with the amount of information that is available at our fingertips that families and professionals are lacking in skills that are necessary to improve care and quality of life?

A better question might be HOW are we educating others?  We’ve gone to lack of education to information overload but we are still faced with the same challenges.   Google dementia, Alzheimer’straining, family caregiver in any combination and pages of information will pop up.  Research varies on how much of what we read actually sticks, that is information that we remember but my guess is that all this information is not making a huge impacts in empowering the masses to improve care for aging adults, especially those living with dementia.

We’re excited to be expanding our network of Master Trainers in 2017.  Bringing together passionate people who believe that education and training is absolutely essential to meeting the growing numbers of healthcare professionals, eldercare providers and families who are and will be caring for aging loved ones.

High stress, limited access to support, difficult family situations and lack of understanding collectively (and singularly) can have a huge effect on how much we learn and apply at any given time.  This is why we believe experiential education and training is so much more effective in creative transformative change within the eldercare sphere.

Our Master Trainers bring quality, hands-on education through the delivery of research-based innovative programs in the dementia education arena.  Dementia Live and Compassionate Touch are changing how we care for those we serve, providing the keys to empowerment and  transformative change in the aging world.

We change attitudes and actions and look forward to a new year of growing, expanding and educating others.

Compassion Fatigue: How to Know if you Care Too Much

Senior and Hospice care professional compassion fatigue
Compassion fatigue impact

Anyone senior care or hospice professional can experience Compassion Fatigue. Nurses, doctors, counselors, veterinarians, therapists, social workers, chaplains, emergency response workers, and people caring for aging parents are vulnerable.

Dr. Charles Figley, an expert on the subject, describes Compassion Fatigue as, “ a state experienced by those helping people in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it is traumatizing for the helper.”  He goes on to say that “The capacity for compassion and empathy seems to be at the core of our ability to do the work and at the core of our ability to be wounded by the work”.

Compassionate fatigue results from the cumulative impact of taking care of people living with serious illness, trauma, abuse, or severe conditions.”  It’s different than job burnout, which is dissatisfaction with our employment situation, not necessarily the work itself.

Compassion is our feelings and thoughts when we witness the suffering of another and the desire to alleviate the suffering. Sometimes we confuse compassion with attachment, which is our own personal investment in the outcome of the situation.  In other words, when we think we feel compassion we are actually wrapped up in our own emotional needs rather than the needs of the other person. Perhaps it’s attachment that leads to compassion fatigue, not compassion itself.

A perfect illustration involves Jane, a therapist working in a nursing home. She describes walking into an elder’s room and feeling stunned by what she saw—an extremely thin, emaciated woman with severe bruising and discoloration on her arms and legs sitting in her wheelchair, alone.

Jane described her first reaction as fear which turned to sadness for this woman’s condition and knowing that she really couldn’t do anything to change it.  But she conjured up the courage to stay present and focused her attention on this woman rather than the outer condition. The fear softened. She gently stroked the woman’s shoulders and she told Jane, “That feels good.” Jane shared that following the visit instead of fear she felt good knowing she had made a difference by connecting with this woman. She was able to drop the attachment to the fear and sadness which allowed her to be present and both she and the woman were uplifted in the process.

How can you recognize compassionate fatigue?  

Some of the symptoms may seem like “normal” stress responses and you may associate them with your work. After all, we live in a pretty stressful world these days. Some characteristics of compassion fatigue include:

  • Withdrawing from others
  • Difficulty connecting with clients- detaching
  • Feeling angry that other caregivers don’t understand the nature of your service
  • Life feels too serious
  • Turning to compulsive or addictive behaviors such as overeating, overspending, alcohol, smoking, etc.
  • Physical symptoms: headaches, gastrointestinal symptoms, muscle tension.
  • Fatigue and apathy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoiding clients. Calling in sick or postponing appointments
  • Thinking that this work isn’t for you (when you know in your heart you really love it)

It’s important to recognize the symptoms so that we avoid reactions or relieve them if they arise. The answer lies in self-care.  Training about self-care typically includes physical support like regular exercise, getting enough sleep and good nutrition. However we shouldn’t stop there. Nancy Jo Bush, an oncology nurse, says that self-care also includes setting empathetic boundaries; self awareness and self forgiveness; being in tune with one’s spirituality and finding hope. The experts agree that reaching out to others and developing a support system is critical, therefore, who would you turn to if you needed the support of an understanding friend?

One hospice professional advises, “Lighten up and don’t forget to laugh.” That reminds me of an old Joni Mitchell lyric, “Laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release.”  So, thanks, Joni. We’ll all try to remember that!

Senior Care: How Stories Generate Empathy

Stories make us feel empathy.
Stories are worth sharing

The connection between stories and empathy may not be obvious. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But maybe words are worth our attention, too.  Consider Philip Pullman’s comment, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Stories connect us. They help define who we are. Stories make us care and, turns out, science is helping to explain why stories have the power to change our brains.

Stories Create Empathy

When you make a point, engage an audience, or even promote your business, a story captures attention in a way that simple facts can’t. To explain, I turned to Paul Zak whose research has uncovered the link between stories and empathy.  He says stories engage more of the brain and stimulate oxytocin production. Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced in the brain and blood that has been called the love and connection hormone. When oxytocin levels increase we feel safe and more compassionate toward others, resulting in a more empathetic social connection.

I’ve seen this first hand in my own work. When I tell a story about how a very old person responded in a Compassionate Touch® session people are moved. When I simply point out the benefits of this approach, they understand on an intellectual level but that’s all. Stories reach our hearts and souls and that old person “comes alive” to the listener.

Mary’s Story

There she was, this wisp of a woman in her wheelchair, alone in this big empty dining room.  Her eyes had a far-away look and every few seconds she sobbed. Was she in pain? She didn’t seem to notice when I spoke to her.  I simply sat quietly with her. Saying her name, holding her hand and stroking her arm, she looked at me for the first time. She accepted my touch but the crying jags continued as she gripped my hand. When time for me to go,  she said in a weak, but clear voice something that shook me to the core.  “I’m so lonely”.

The next day I saw her again. She lay in bed, so tiny she was barely visible under the covers. She stared at the ceiling, crying. I took in the scene as I stood the doorway to her room. Not one picture, flower, card or anything else personal was found. Who was this woman? All I knew was the moment.  “Hi Mary, its Ann. Can I sit next to you on your bed?” She actually nodded yes! I massaged her hands and softly stroked her hair and cheek, a touch I often use to comfort people with advanced conditions. Still, she cried every few minutes. But she reached up and touched my cheek and even looked me in the eye. I stayed present in her little world. At one point she took my hand to her lips, kissed it and said I love you.

It was wonderful to see this woman go from profound loneliness to enjoying a relationship in her own way.  As I was leaving, a nurse came in and said “Hi Mary” quite casually like she’s probably done a thousand times.  And Mary, in a clear voice said Hi!  The nurse clearly was amazed.  I walked away with a smile in my heart because

Capture your own story.

We create a story every time we touch someone. True, some are more memorable than others but many are worth capturing—and sharing. But if you’re like me the details of a story fade quickly unless we find a way to resurrect them.   Here’s a tip. Dedicate a notebook or journal to jot down your own stories. It doesn’t have to be formal, however quick notes will do. I have carried a journal in my that goes with me into homes and communities.  Some stories are just a line or two.  A glimpse through the pages brings back memories of people who have help shaped my work, blessed my life, and opened my heart to greater empathy.  So share your own stories. They bring to life the power and validity of your service in the world. We’ll all be listening!

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