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

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Happy Triggers

Most caregivers have learned to look for triggers that increase stress—and acting out. But do you also look for triggers that decrease stress? Like the acting-out triggers, these “happy triggers” can be very individual but there are many that work for most of our LBDers.

Music is one of the more general happy triggers. It works wonders with many people. Usually, soft elevator or easy-listening music is best, but consider individual tastes too. Or maybe it is just one tune that brings back feelings about happy times. Or a specific kind of music. Beth told of how her mother had collected music boxes. When she visited her mother, she’d play them. It not only calmed her mother, it pleased the other residents too!

Touch is another fairly general happy trigger, especially when used with a gentle tone of voice. Remember to move slowly and touch softly. Harold paced when he became agitated. His wife learned to go up to him and, putting her hand gently on his arm, talk to him softly. “It didn’t really matter what I said,” she told her group. Just the words and the touch made him less agitated. And then I could steer him over to his chair and he’d sit down.”

A third are family photos. Whenever Judy placed an album filled with family pictures in her father’s hands, he would calm down. He loved to look at the photos even though he couldn’t identify all of the faces anymore.

Tools of a past trade or hobby often work well as happy triggers. Lydia had been a librarian. Her “happy trigger was a book. Give her one and she’d smell it and hug it to her chest and smile. For Janice, the mother of five, it was a baby doll. Some feel that using dolls with dementia patients is demeaning and “infantizing.” Our own take on this is that if it the doll has a calming effect on your loved one, it is a shame not to use it.

The further along the LBD journey your loved one is, the more they rely on feelings rather than words and concepts. And so a happy trigger can be anything that generates positive feelings, feelings of adequacy and even accomplishment, of safety and security, of love and affection, of comfort and fun. Don’t forget humor. Not being able to express humor anymore does not mean that it isn’t appreciated. And so, to find your loved one’s individual “happy triggers” think about what has made them happy in the past. They are still the same person, after all.

Of course, you must take into consideration LBD’s sensitivities. Jerry once loved loud music—the faster and louder the better, but now hearing it makes him agitated. Myron once loved to go to a crowded mall and people watch. Now crowds overwhelm him. You also have to take into consideration their lost executive skills. Ella loved TV mystery shows. Now she can’t tell what’s real and what’s not and she becomes frightened because she believes she is in danger.

Parkinson’s families learn to adapt for their loved one’s mobility issues. Leon walked miles each day; now his wife pushes him around the block in his wheelchair when he gets agitated. In fact that’s the name of the game for all LBD families. What other kind of music might be a “happy trigger” for Jerry? Where can Myron indulge in people watching when he isn’t in a crowed mall? What other kinds of TV will entertain and calm Ella? It’s all a matter of trial and error.

But once you’ve found your loved one’s happy triggers, use them. Of course, you won’t need them as much if you’ve also found those things that trigger the acting-out and do your best to avoid them. Use the happy triggers when the acting-out occurs anyway and you’ll both be happier. In fact use the happy triggers often, with or without acting-out. Why not? We all like being happy!

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