New Year, New You

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Are you making any new year’s resolutions?  Every year thousands of us do.

Make 2017 a better year for you and your loved by making self-care your priority.   When we care for ourselves we are better equipped to handle the challenges that come our way and to embrace the wonder that unfolds before our eyes moment-to-moment.  Consider making one or more of the following a priority in 2017.

Coloring is one of the best stress relievers.  “It is like meditation because it encourages engagement with the present moment,” said NCU professor Dr. Mary Jill Blackwell. “When we focus on the present moment, we do not worry about the future, ruminate about the past, or engage in negative self talk.”

It’s a great activity for your loved one as well.

Head to your nearest bookstore or Target for some great year-end deals on coloring books and your art supply for the pens and/or pencils.  You can also go inexpensively and just head to a dollar store for crayons and print coloring pages from the Internet – here are a couple of my favorite sites.

http://freeprintableadultcoloringpages.com/

http://www.coloring-pages-adults.com/

Set aside 30 min each week to just color. Let yourself go and be in the splendor of the colors and rhythmic feeling that coloring can produce.  I love it because it’s great for all family members to enjoy.

Tai Chi, originally developed as a form of Chinese martial arts, is a popular activity recommended by the Mayo Clinic as one of the best ways to reduce stress for its principles of meditative movements. This year make a resolution to begin spending 30 min to an hour on Tai Chi and enjoy the gentle rhythmic flow of body movements that promote calm and serenity.

Inexpensive classes for Tai Chi can be easily found through Meetup or a simple Google search.  I strongly recommend looking at YouTube to familiarize yourself with the movements – its easy, simple, and free.

When performed outside, Tai Chi movements activate a kind of synchronicity and grounding with nature bringing about peace and clam throughout the entire body.

Gratitude Journal for 365 days of blessings. There’s truth to the adage that what we focus on we get more of.  Counting our blessings puts us in a state of thanks and joy, if for only a few moments a day.   And, there’s research to prove it.

Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health.  They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

Take 30 minutes each day – 15 minutes in the morning and again in the evening to reflect on the good and beauty that surrounds you.  As a morning activity, it creates a mindset of joy to begin your day.  As a nightly routine, just before bed, it puts us in a state of relaxation that can produce better sleep.

Finally, join a support group – I can’t say enough about the benefits of joining a support group some of which include:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated, or judged
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
  • Improving coping skills and sense of adjustment
  • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
  • Reducing distress, depression, anxiety, or fatigue

Family Connect Care offers weekly groups. It’s incredibly important to have a regular outlet for dealing with the things that come up.  Make it a habit of attending several times a month to give you the release you need, to share with others who are going through the same thing as you are, and to learn ways of dealing with the challenges.  For more information on our workshops go to www.familyconnectcare.com.

2017 will be a great year and when you embrace your own self-care, you will not only be helping yourself but your loved-one as well…. It’s the best thing you can do for both of you.

Lauren Spiglanin is CEO of Family Connect Care and a leading authority in care management, specializing in helping people challenged by Alzheimer’s and dementia. She has been providing caregivers with peace of mind and advocacy for their loved ones since 2008 and speaks widely to caregivers offering solutions to mitigate burnout. She is a certified Gerontologist and member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, a designated Alzheimer’s Association Educator and holds certifications in Wound Management, Facilitation, Mediation, Validation Therapy and Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly.  She also holds a Bachelors’ degree from the University of La Verne.

Changing the Focus

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I get asked all the time how to deal with a loved one who is combative, asks repeatedly when am I going home, or who has begun to exhibit an ongoing behavior.  It’s tough. Communicating with a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be frustrating, exhausting, and downright challenging not to mention leading to potential care-giver burnout.

But, it’s not impossible.

Redirection is a great tool family care-givers can use within the situation.

What is redirection?

Simply put, its changing the focus or subject.

We’ve all done it.  Heck, I’ve used It on my husband as he has with me.  In conversation, we change the subject. We segue into a new conversation.

For family care-givers, it’s taking a new path — to move or lead your loved one away from a behavior using patience, objectivity, empathy and creativity.

Apply patience and objectivity.

Mom says she doesn’t want to take a shower.  It feels like a battle every time, and no matter how much you try to explain to Mom that she needs to bathe, she just seems to fight you.  It’s hard not to react and take it personally.  It’s easy to get sucked-in especially if we are exhausted.  When exhausted, our tone changes and our pitch rises which can escalate a situation.

But here’s the thing.  It’s not Mom. It’s Alzheimer’s.

Be patient.  Take a deep breath and step-back. Remove yourself from the situation.

Yes. This can be difficult.  It requires considerable strength and self-control but necessary since it’s not just your loved one with whom you are communicating – its Alzheimer’s – that zig-zagging maze of behavior, feelings, and physical conditions.

I know it feels like they are doing it on purpose and that they have an agenda. That’s simply not true because this disease robs your loved one of the ability to effectively reason and communicate what is happening to them.

Explaining to them why they have to start or stop something or offering logic won’t work.  And yet, it tends to be the go-to strategy that we were taught to use to communicate with others – offering sound arguments and logic to convey why something should or shouldn’t be done.  Alzheimer’s takes the logic map away requiring us to apply a different talk.

Validate.

Validation is an important tool in redirection offering a practical way of communicating with your loved one that is built on an empathetic attitude and holistic view without judgement. A therapy developed by Naomi Fiel, it allows your loved one to feel acknowledged and to process what is happening to them. While the memories, logic, and communication fade or become jumbled, the emotions don’t.  They are real.

Redirection with validation changes the focus by leaning in … leaning into their world.

Let me explain.

It’s not uncommon for a loved with Alzheimer’s to repeatedly ask, when can I go home and sometimes even when they haven’t been moved.

It’s possible Mom or Dad is experiencing a sense of loss and actually referring to their childhood home.  When you validate, you allow your loved one to process this emotion.  The redirection occurs through exploration.

Consider asking questions such as what they liked best about their home, what did they do, or who were their friends?  Its creative dementia speak and a conversation without judgement.  I encourage my families to allow a give-and-take in the conversation. Follow their lead.  Try using phrases from back in their day.

Be Creative

Creativity means variety and openness.  In redirection, we are leading our loved one to a new focus. A family care giver may face the same questions or resistance feeling that nothing is working.  Having alternatives will help.

Music is a wonderful tool in redirection especially if your loved one is feeling agitated.

My client Wanda is very combative, abusive and cusses A LOT— common characteristics with this crazy disease.  I learned that Wanda used to play the viola.  While in one of her combative states, I just played viola music.  She literally stopped, listened, and said HEY! I used to play the viola.

As she began to connect to the music, it redirected her combativeness becoming calmer and more lucid.  Her cussing and swearing were replaced with stories about her playing and how her grandson plays the viola and her granddaughter plays the violin.  It was wild and wonderful.  The music changed her focus.

Consider other activities or stimuli such as ice cream, looking at family photos, brushing their hair, or perhaps introducing some new smells such as lavender to promote relaxation.

Finally, and above all, be kind to yourself.

Alzheimer’s is exhausting. Be patient.  I know, easier said than done.  Take a time-out for you.

Join a support group.  In the groups I facilitate, we discuss a variety of activities that can be very effective in redirection.  A support group also helps family care-givers process what is going on with their loved one not to mention providing a break.

Let me know what’s working for you. In the meantime, be well.

Note: The above should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your physician to rule out any physical issues.

*Client names were changed to protect anonymity

Lauren Spiglanin is CEO of Family Connect Care and a leading authority in care management, specializing in helping people challenged by Alzheimer’s and dementia. She has been providing caregivers with peace of mind and advocacy for their loved ones since 2008 and speaks widely to caregivers offering solutions to mitigate burnout. She is a certified Gerontologist and member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, a designated Alzheimer’s Association Educator and holds certifications in Wound Management, Facilitation, Mediation, Validation Therapy and Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly.  She also holds a Bachelors’ degree from the University of La Verne.

 

Music Lights the Corners of Our Minds

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Have you ever been driving in your car and the radio begins to play an old song — somehow you not only remember all the words, it brings back great memories.  KC and the Sunshine Band does it for me every time.

The reason is quite simple. We are hard-wired to remember music. It imprints itself on the brain deeper than any other human experience and when it does it arouses emotion and memory.

The impact is profound especially for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementia!  I see it all the time with my clients.

Music makes connections.

Phil would just sit at the dining room table with his head down. Poor guy, sometimes he would pick his head up but really he showed very little movement and zero conversation.

I carry a lot of music on my phone and happened to have Glenn Miller’s “String of Pearls” so I began to play it.

I kid you not: his foot started to tap under the table, his leg started to move very slowly with the music and then his head began to bop a little bit.  It was amazing.

His daughter, who cares for him 24/7, witnessed the transformation.  She was so overcome that she just broke down, balling her eyes out at seeing her father’s connection.

Music is so powerful but most families just don’t realize how much.  Yet we all move and groove when we hear music. It makes us feel good. Songs and music bring back memories.

Even in late stage Alzheimer’s a loved one can respond to music

I have a client-couple who live in a community.  Karl has advanced Alzheimer’s.  He’s in a wheelchair and really cannot converse. His language is scrambled. It’s all lettuce for him.

To better acquaint me with his parents, the son forwarded a very touching video of the couple spanning their entire lifetimes – even before they were married.    Through the video, I learned that Karl had been a trumpet player.  So when I made my first visit to him, I played trumpet soloists from my phone– Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, etc.

As he heard it, it was clear that the music was very important in his life. He started to mimic playing – as if he was holding the trumpet in his hands, he was fingering the imaginary valves.

He resonated with the music — something was happening in his memory to bring out that reaction and that connection.

We videotaped the session and sent it to the family so they could see his reaction. The family was blown away.  In the five years he had been in the community, they had never seen their Dad have such a profound response…. to anything.

Consequently, I suggested to the family that we get a toy trumpet – just so he could hold it. Whether he tries to play it or not isn’t really the point – it’s the connection he has with it and that’s what counts.

Music lights the corners of our minds and moves memory.

It has impact and influence, and studies back it up. Research is demonstrating that our music memory is stored in the area of the brain not subject to the same level of deterioration as other parts of the brain even for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementia. Similar to my experience with clients, the studies show that music supports calmer more social environments, improved cognitive abilities and greater engagement with music’s power of connection.

Linda Maguire, an opera singer turned neuroscientist, shows the influence of music at a physiological level in that musical rhythm hits us viscerally helping to slow heart rate and in turn lower blood pressure resulting in a calmer state.

Music & Memory, a nonprofit based in New York created an IPod personal playlists program and works to donate IPods to care facilities across the country.  They’ve seen tremendous benefits for Alzheimer’s patients noting participants feeling happier and more socially engaged when routinely exposed to music.

Family caregivers face a variety of challenges and need ways to make the journey less stressful and opportunities to make more meaningful connections.

There are several ways music can be used with a loved one with Alzheimer’s

First of all, if you are just starting out, you don’t want music to be blaring or so loud that it’s agitating.  I suggest getting the soft-padded headphones because they’re more comfortable than the standard ear buds.

Second, download the songs or music that your parent or loved one resonates with most – choose popular recordings from back in their day.  Maybe it’s the songs reminiscent of when you and your loved one first met or your parents began courting or were played at the wedding.

Consider what your loved one did when they were younger — Did they play an instrument, were they involved in a choir, did they love to dance?  These early activities can help unlock the power of music.

Finally, experiment with music and be attentive to any mood or behavioral changes in your loved one. Some individuals with dementia may not like certain melodies.  But don’t give up, there’s likely a tune that will be familiar and fun.

Music matters— to your loved one, to you, and your family. It allows a greater connection, relief, and a sense of something working which can be a welcomed relief in the craziness of the disease called Alzheimer’s.

Let me know if music is impacting your loved one.  I’d love to hear your story.

*Client names were changed to protect anonymity


Lauren SpiglHeadShot1anin is 
CEO of Family Connect Care and a leading authority in care management, specializing in helping people challenged by Alzheimer’s and dementia. She has been providing caregivers with peace of mind and advocacy for their loved ones since 2008 and speaks widely to caregivers offering solutions to mitigate burnout. She is a certified Gerontologist and member of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, a designated Alzheimer’s Association Educator and holds certifications in Wound Management, Facilitation, Mediation, Validation Therapy and Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly.  She also holds a Bachelors’ degree in Public Administration from the University of La Verne.

When I have time to be happy, I’ll get back to you.

girl-403511_640Are we born happy and positive?

Turns out we are NOT, but we can’t help it. It’s not our fault that we have difficulty being happy.  Many of us feel happy is a thing you have to schedule.

Sadly, we aren’t wired for it.

Our nature and historic DNA predisposes us to negativity – that pesky fight or flight and survival of the fittest.  Our earliest ancestors spent most of their time in avoidance – avoiding hunger, avoiding being eaten, and fighting to survive.

Our predilection to avoid negative outcomes has us prewired for a negative bias. It leads our brain into using up to two thirds of its neurons detecting negativity: should I fight or should I go?  That constant focus is further complicated because it’s stored in our long term memory. We hold on to negativity longer, making bad feelings stronger than good.

It’s not all gloom and doom though.

We can turn it around, and we should, because stress takes a toll on us with higher blood pressure, increased aches and pains, cognitive impairments, and a diminished quality of life.

We all seem to have time for stress in our lives. In my work, I see that family caregivers of those living with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s/Dementia appear to have a particularly high level of stress.

woman-591576_640So, how do we do it? How do we GET happy?

Since we spend a great deal on negativity, we have to rewire ourselves, retrain our brains.  It’s the pursuit of positive experiences and the techniques associated with storing and holding on to them that leads to the Holy Grail of HAPPINESS.

Here are 4 Happy Practices to rewire and retrain your brain

1.    Practice Healthy Habits

Not surprisingly, eating a healthy diet and adopting a regular exercise routine allows us to feel better. It doesn’t take more time to eat right. It takes focus on feeling better, which leads us to a more positive outlook.

Okay, exercising might take some extra time. Instead of watching another episode of Real Housewives of Wherever, try just 20 minutes of walking a day. That alone can lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels. The National Institutes of Health suggests that aerobic exercise is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. It may even slow  the progression of dementia.

2.    Practice remembering the positive moments

Do you know a particularly happy person?  They seem alive, walking with a bounce in their step and nothing ever seems to get them down, leading you and others to believe that nothing bad or negative happens to them.  That’s simply not true.  Bad things happen to everyone but, if we focus on finding positive moments, we don’t have to see the negative or, if we do, we learn to let it go quickly.

To rewire ourselves we must spend as much time with our positive moments as possible.  We currently take time to ruminate on the negative so let’s take THAT time to reminisce on the positive.

Journaling helps to savor the moments by spending more time it. Write about how it felt and what you saw. Think of colorful adjectives to describe the experience.  Studies suggest that something as simple as “listing” our gratitudes – or counting our blessings is effective in holding positive moments.

We ask family care givers to focus on the good days — Take MORE time to consume those good-day-making moments. Was Dad more lucid today, resulting in the two of you having a great conversation?  Wrap your arms around that conversation. Write about it, feel it, experience it.  It was a good day!

Consider other moments you might experience.  Every moment has the ability to envelop all our senses, enabling the ability to build a positivity bias.

3.    Practice flipping the script

The adage when life gives you lemons, make lemonade is a great example of a script flip.  We get to control how we imprint what happens to us.  Now there’s a time-saver.

For family caregivers living with an Alzheimer’s sufferer, new behaviors seem to appear out of nowhere that we find unpleasant and over which we have no control. Such might be the case when Mom arrives to the breakfast table wearing nothing more than a strand of pearls and a smile.

You have some choices: get angry, reason with her, or simply say —

Nice pearls Mom. Let’s make a fashion statement and pair it with that pink robe you have then pour her a cup of coffee.

Questioning the behavior or displaying anger doesn’t help Mom and it certainly doesn’t help you. Letting it go helps you, reframing the situation (or flipping the script) helps you.

4.    Practice Mindful Meditation

meditation-1287207_640Mediation is one of, if not the, most important way of developing focus on positivity.  It’s like a clearing of the brain.  We are returning our brains to a state of equilibrium which allows us to recharge, replenish, and rest. Through it, we develop greater present moment awareness and emotional regulation–in other words–we are less stressed.

The benefits cannot be overstated. Studies show that we can change the structure of our brains in as little as 8 weeks of meditation.  We gain greater clarity, feelings of calm, and even increased cognitive ability as the practice, “changes gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes and emotional regulation.”

With the ability to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and increase cognitive ability, family members caring for someone with dementia/alzheimer’s will benefit greatly from the practice.   What’s more promising is the growing body of evidence supporting the positive aspects of meditation in that it made seniors feel less lonely and isolated — a link to an increased risk of developing the disease.

There are fundamental ways we ask family caregivers to prepare themselves for the journey from addressing legal and financial issues to learning as much about the disease as possible. Self-care is paramount for the journey too. It gives you, the family caregiver, the strength and tools for navigating the road ahead.  Taking time to adopt Happy Practices will go a long way in ensuring your own self-care.