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

Friday, September 30, 2016

Be a Better Storyteller

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Be a Better Storyteller

In Eric Barker’s blog, Neuroscience Of Mindfulness: How To Make Your Mind Happy, he talks about how our brain is divided into two parts: The right brain, which collects facts, and the left brain, which interprets these facts. Thus, your right brain sees a person glance at their watch. Your left brain tells you, “She’s bored” or even more likely, “I’m boring her.”

We all do this. But in most cases, we also check our interpretations against facts.“Oh, yes, she has an important appointment and needs not to be late.” If I have dementia, I’m not going to be able to do this. I accept my left brain’s interpretation without question. I live in the moment and can’t apply such information, even if I remember it, to what’s happening right now.

Eric Barker suggests that we become aware of how our brains work…that we understand how creative, and often incorrect, the left brain can be in its interpretation of the facts that the right brain collects. Well, that’s fine for the average person, but it doesn’t work for me if I have dementia. I can’t do that. I’m stuck with what my left brain tells me. So how can you help me avoid this?

First, if I come to a conclusion, flow with it. I’m not going to change. Explaining the facts, arguing or defending isn’t going to work. Accept, agree and deflect or distract. But maybe there are some things you can do to help me avoid some of these conclusions before they happen.

Eric Barker suggests that you help the left brain build better stories. Now, there’s a thought! What can you do to help me build better, more positive stories?

Make me comfortable. As discussed in the March 12, 2016 blog, Emotions, it is human nature to pay more attention to negative messages. They are more intense and get our attention more easily. We need them to motivate us to move away from danger, or often, just from being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable and danger are on the same plane, only danger is just more intense. Dementia takes away my ability to judge intensiveness, and so I respond similarly to both. The more comfortable you can help me to be the better I will react to my environment, i.e., the more positively I will interpret what my right brain feeds me.

Improve my self-esteem. As my condition worsens, as my ability to think, remember, or do things for myself diminishes, so does my self-esteem. Thus, I’m more likely to think I’m boring, or that I’m not good enough for you to hang around, or that I’m too much trouble, or…. To counteract this, use lots of physical reassurance on a regular basis: hugs, kisses, anything you can do or say to show me that I’m important to you. This won’t work during an event when I’m convinced of something negative…then I’m stuck. Your actions must happen at times when I can accept them at face value, not as an avoidance of my, to me, accurate statements.

Help me to feel useful. The better I feel about my contributions to our daily life, the happier I will be and the fewer negative emotions my left brain will have to build into its stories. Look around. What can I do? It doesn’t matter if I can do it well. Can I help with the dishes? Fold the laundry? Sweep the floor. I don’t need to hear that it is good for me to be keeping busy. I need to hear that I’m helping you, making your job easier. OK, so maybe I’m not. But that’s what I need to hear. So, if you want me to feel useful, tell me that!

Help me to feel creative. Creativity is very uplifting, and adds all kinds of positive feelings. What did I do before dementia? Was I a photographer? An artist? A musician? A seamstress? A carpenter? A cook? I don’t me professionally, but how did I express my creativity? What was important to me? Family? Work? Hobbies like dancing, or golf or knitting? How can you help me to continue to do some form of this same thing? Even looking at photo albums can be helpful if that is all I can still do. Ask questions about the photos, but don’t push for names, etc. or anything that makes me agitated. Music can be very helpful. So can art work like finger painting. Use your own creativity to come up with ideas and try them out.

None of these suggestions are likely to keep my left brain from telling negative stories altogether. But they may help enough that I may need less medication…and that’s a real plus!

* Acronyms:
LBD: Lewy body dementia
PlwD: person living with dementia
PlwLBD: person living with LBD
BPSD: behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia

For 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

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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