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

Friday, February 9, 2018

Compliments: Gifts of Love

Right around Valentine's Day we start thinking about giving gifts to show our love. That's why we've interrupted our blogs on sleep to talk about compliments. Compliments are wonderful dementia tools. Actually they are just plain wonderful with anyone. A compliment, used properly, provides motivation and makes a person want to try harder, do more, be better. They make us sit up straighter, think better, and go on to succeed more. However, they are especially great with our loved ones who are in need of positive reinforcement as they lose so much of who they used to be.
A compliment is:
  • A voluntarily given piece of positive reinforcement. It tells a person that their effort is something special and worthy of notice. This encourages the person to keep doing that something special even if the effort is difficult or frustrating.
  • A little gift of love. It tells a person that they personally are valued, interesting, appreciated and cared about.
  • A return gift to the donor. Giving a gift makes the giver feel good and compliments are no different. It just plain feels good to give a compliment to someone.
Compliments work better if:
  • if they are sincere. This is especially important with PlwD. Because they are so perceptive of feelings, their BS meter is sensitive. You have to really mean what you say. Otherwise, you lose trust. Be creative. Look for things you can honestly compliment and do it often.
  • if they are specific. Don't tell the person how wonderful they are--this is too general and doesn't offer enough information. Tell them how much you liked the colors in the picture they painted or how lovely that blouse looks on them or what a beautiful smile they have.
  • if they are related to the task at hand. Compliments about appearance are uplifting but not when the person is more concerned about how well they are doing with their new walker or getting food from their plate to their mouth.
  • when they describe how the person made your life better. "Thank you for doing the vacuuming. The room looks wonderful and I love it that I didn't have push that vacuum around!"
One great thing about giving compliments to a PlwD is that you can't give too many. If you overdo the compliments with most people, they will consider it flattery and you'll lose their trust. But PlwD process compliments a little differently. Compliment processing goes like this:
  • The compliment is accepted first at face value and causes a release of the "feel good" hormone, serotonin. Yes, even bad compliments make any person feel good at first!
  • Then sincerity is evaluated. This involves checking out the emotions of the giver. The compliment is not believed if their sincerity is doubted.
  • If the compliment is rejected, negative feelings related to distrust, belittlement, and such override any positive feelings. Up to here, the processing is the same for everyone, except that the PlwD is much more sensitive to insincerity.
The next step involves abstract thinking, where a person evaluates content and motivation. This requires tasks such as doing comparisons and considering past events. The PlwD can seldom do much of this. And so:
  • If the compliment passes the sincerity test, the PlwD accepts it. With concrete thinking, the brain accepts first information it receives about the compliment--the initial good feeling, which stays and actually improves the PlwD's ability to communicate.
And so, the bottom line is,
  • be continually on the lookout for things to compliment 
  • compliment often and 
  • always mean it.
Oh, one more thing. People, women especially, often have difficulty accepting them. When you receive a compliment and you say something like "Oh, this old thing. I picked it up at Goodwill." you not only put yourself down, you invalidate that person's judgment as well as your own and take the joy out of the whole interaction.

Instead, accept all compliments with at the least a smile and a "Thank you." If it is appropriate, I like to say, "Thank you, I like it too." or even "Thank you. I felt so lucky to find it while shopping at Goodwill." Just as a compliment is a gift to you, your response can be gift to the donor, making every compliment a mini-celebration complete with a gift exchange.

Next week, back to the series on sleep, with a blog on how it's related to depression and more.

* Acronyms:
AD: Alzheimer's disease
BPSD: Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia
DLB: Dementia with Lewy bodies, where cognitive/behavioral issues occur first
LBD: Lewy body dementia, an umbrella term for both DLB and PDD
MCI: Mild cognitive impairment
MCI-LB: the form of MCI that precedes LBD
PD: Parkinson's disease
PDD: Parkinson's disease with dementia, where mobility issues occur first
PlwD: person/people living with dementia
PlwPD, LBD, PDD, AD, etc.: person/people living with PD, LBD, etc.

We love and welcome comments but we will not publish any that advertise a product or a commercial website. This is especially true for testimonials about miraculous Parkinson's cures and marijuana.

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

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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