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

Friday, January 3, 2014

A New Year

When a family is dealing with dementia, it is not always easy to be optimistic about the New Year—or anything new for that matter. We learn to value the old, the known, the familiar. We know that anything new, anything different, anything unexpected is not likely to be fun for our loved ones—and therefore not for us either. Our loved ones need familiarity. They need their rituals and their routines to give their days and their lives order and to give them a touch of that sense of control that is slowly but relentlessly fading.

As caregivers, we know that Lewy is progressively degenerative. There may be ups but the lows follow and become increasingly lower. As the year unrolls, unwanted changes will be more likely that than good news. Additional worries and tasks add burdens to a life that is often already overwhelming. We watch our loved ones decline and live for the few sparks of the person-that-was that shines through now and then.

How then can we look forward to this new year and along with the changes that it brings? How then can we embrace this new year and call it our own?

It’s in appreciating the little things and keeping a positive outlook. That doesn’t mean hiding from reality or denying Lewy. It means being on the outlook for the good things. The touch of humor, the beautiful sunset, the cozy chair by a warm fireplace, an ice cream cone, the call from family. The shared joke—even when it doesn’t make sense. A walk around the block, a visit from a friend. Kindness from a stranger. A kind word or a thoughtful gift. Make a point of consciously appreciating each positive and the negatives will be a little less burdensome.

It’s in the giving. Giving is often more rewarding than receiving. Even with a crowded life and little free time, find ways to give, if only a smile, a kind word or an inexpensive gift. For gifting to be rewarding to the gifter, it should be done lovingly and freely without expectations or conditions. Often this gifting will be to your loved one, but reach out and give to others as well. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels. (reference)

It’s in the feelings of gratitude. Look for ways to feel fortunate and ways to feel wealthy—not just monetarily but in other ways, too. When you are down and feeling overwhelmed, look for things to feel grateful for. You can even keep a gratitude journal and refer to it when you need a lift. (reference)

And it’s in the stress management. Rigorously keep stress to a minimum. Anything that causes you or your loved one stress is going to increase symptoms. Be alert for triggers and work around them. If a certain type of music makes either of you irritated or anxious, avoid it like the plague. If red plates make meals less troublesome (and they often do!) buy red plates and use them religiously. If crowds are too stressful anymore, avoid them. Find other times or other places to shop, or enjoy an outing.

Look for the fun, the humor, the touches of kindness and focus on those. Save the memories of them up in your Gratitude Journal and use these “tokens” to replay in your mind when you are stressed or hurting. You’ll be amazed at how many tokens you can find if you look. And each one will help you feel more optimistic, more loved and loving. Each one will make the difficult job of caregiving a little easier.

For more about LBD, read The Whitworth’s A Caregiver’s Guide to Lewy Body Dementia, available in the LBD Book Corner on

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