By Meghan Fitzpatrick
Since this is my first time writing for this publication, it seems appropriate to introduce myself. My name is Meghan Fitzpatrick. I’ve worked with seniors for the better part of my entire life and I’ve worked in dementia care for most of my career.
When my grandmother’s dementia reached a point that my family could no longer support her at home, I had already been in this line of work for several years. I found that even with all of my training, experience and resources, the journey was overwhelming and it was difficult to know what to do.
Since then, my mission has been to help anyone who reaches out to me to find the best resources available and the best solution for them and their loved one. You can imagine my excitement when I was asked to contribute a little something to this paper. With that in mind, I sat down and thought about what I would focus on if I had this one chance to reach a lot of people who are in the same boat as I and so many of my clients have been in, and the answer became clear—compassion for yourself as a caregiver.
One of the most common comments I get from families I work with is something along the lines of “You are just so patient with my mom (or dad our spouse or brother…the list goes on). I just get so mad sometimes.” My very first response is always to remind them that I’m not related to the person we’re talking about and because I work with good people, I can go home at the end of the day and not worry about them. I know they’re in good care. After taking care of my own grandmother with dementia, I can tell you that’s a huge factor. It took a lot more effort to stay patient with my grandmother. That isn’t the whole story, though.
There are a lot of articles and lectures and websites out there emphasizing the need for patience when talking to people with dementia, but the most important skill I’ve learned over the years is compassion, not just for our loved ones but for ourselves. Caregivers forget to be kind to themselves and that can affect the way we communicate with our loved ones. Here are some reminders to help maintain your compassion (and your composure) when walking through a day with a loved one with dementia.
How to have compassion for yourself:
- Remember your frustration is normal and TOTALLY VALID. Much like your loved one, you are going through something heartbreaking and out of your control. Frustration is a healthy human response to the situation you are in. It does not make you a bad person: it’s a sign that you are fully aware of the place you’re in. Your feelings are valid.
- Reach out for help. This is not a one-man job. This is not a two-man job. Giving someone with dementia the care and attention they deserve takes a village. If you’re feeling alone or burnt out or you just need a few minutes to yourself at the grocery store; reach out. There are resources available.
- Congratulate yourself. All the time. If you get the dishes done or you get out the door on time or you just got up and managed to get a matching outfit on today, take a second to celebrate the victory. I speak from experience when I say this one feels very weird at first but it will do wonders if you make it a practice.
- Celebrate at every opportunity. Got an easy parking spot at the grocery store? Celebrate! Got a good night’s sleep last night? Celebrate! Did you wake up without that weird kink in your right shoulder for the first time in a while? Celebrate that one for both of us. My shoulders are always sore. When dementia is a part of your every day, we can get bogged down in all the things that aren’t working because they’re SO BIG. Celebrating the little things is a reminder that there are still good moments every day.
How it translates to compassion for your loved one:
- In the dementia world, The Validation Technique has long been a staple of effective communication. Over the years I’ve found it works for most humans, not just people with dementia. Basically, it boils down to this: remember that the world your loved one occupies is very different from the one you do, but no less valid. Their emotions and frustrations, like yours, are totally valid. Begin with acknowledging their experience.
- Make socializing a part of their life every day. This one can be extra tricky but there are support services available for this too. Socializing can stimulate and strengthen the neural networks in the brain but anyone who lived through the early COVID shutdowns probably also remembers how much it can affect a person’s mood to be isolated, even for those of us who thought we were going to love the break.
- Congratulate and celebrate every victory they have. This does not mean we should be patronizing our loved ones. Just remember that the same way it takes more effort and strength to walk through waist deep water than on dry land, it takes someone with dementia a lot more strength and effort to walk through a day. If your loved one got up and ready with less resistance than usual today, celebrate that. Did they make it through a family event without needing a break or a nap to reset? That’s impressive! Living with dementia, people often lose sight of what they can still do. They can start to judge themselves for their struggles. Celebrating their victories can help refocus the mind on their strength.
I can tell you from personal experience, this advice will not work every time. You will forget to celebrate the little wins and you will beat yourself up for losing your patience. Or maybe you won’t, but I have. So, if you do forget these tips, or if they don’t work, just remember, that too is normal, and tomorrow is a new day.
I mentioned that there are resources out there for you and your loved one. If you are interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to me.
Home Care Liaison
Mobile: (617) 862-5413