The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Magic Tools 2: Conscious Choice

Last week we started this series about behavior management with a discussion about checking on a couple of issues that often lead to difficult behavior, your loved one's health and their environment. If you've found no problems there but the behavior is continuing, it is time to look at how you interact with your loved one.

Dementia changes the rules. It changes how your loved one thinks and what they do. For them, what once was simple curiosity can become a wild accusation. What once might have been a pleasant fancy, a wishful thought or an uneventful happening can morph into a totally believed delusion. Unless you change your own behavior, you may find that all too often, once calm discussions become raging arguments.

Frank and I have had a good marriage where we could usually talk out our differences. But then he was diagnosed with LBD a year ago. We were doing all right until Covid came along and changed so many of our routines. Frank hates change and can’t understand why we must stay in the car when we go out for ice cream or why everyone we see is wearing masks. I think this all frightens him. His delusions have gotten worse and he’s angry more too. I’ve tried explaining; it just makes him impatient. I try not to respond to his anger with my own but I don’t always succeed. And when I try to defend myself, that really makes him angry! I’m at my wit’s end. Mary

Like Frank and Mary, most of you have had successful relationships prior to LBD, as couples, parent and child, siblings or friends. You had developed tried and true ways to relate comfortably. When dementia appears, those old ways that once worked so well often fail. For example, Frank and Mary’s ability to talk out their differences depended on being able to recognize and respect each person’s point of view and then make compromises. This requires complex thinking, something LBD has taken from Frank.

New Tools for New Rules. Since dementia changes the rules, Mary needs to learn what has changed and how to deal with the results of those changes. Our book, Responsive Dementia Care explains the thinking skills LBD takes away and those it leaves. Briefly, it takes away the ability to multi-task, generalize, empathize or prioritize. Without these skills,
  • Frank can only react. He can no longer choose between two ideas, change his mind or make judgments.
  • Frank’s brain now accepts the first information about a situation that it receives as an unchangeable fact, his TRUTH.
  • He cannot compute concepts like distance and time. He must function totally in the here and now.
  • Everything is either/or: black or white, is or isn’t, yes or no. There are no maybes, ifs or laters, no distances like near or far, no graduations like a little or a lot. Frank is either very hungry not hungry at all, extremely angry or not angry at all, etc.
The Magic of Conscious Choice. Making a conscious choice to try a different way of responding to your loved one can be magic. Even though Frank can no longer make choices or initiate change, he can follow. Thus, when Mary changes her own behavior, Frank can follow her lead and yes, then he can change too!

Learning how the dementia-damaged brain functions is the first step in this process. Then she can use this information as a guide for choosing a response to Frank. When Mary makes these conscious, thought-out choices instead of reacting automatically, she is much more likely to be successful in leading Frank away from the circumstances driving his behavior.

Next week’s blog will be about emotions and the magic of empathy.

For more information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia
Responsive Dementia Care: Fewer Behaviors Fewer Drugs
Lewy Body Dementia: A Manual for Staff

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.

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