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

Friday, May 18, 2018

Constructive Caring, #1: Introduction

This is the first blog in a series about being a constructive care partner. At one time, I'd have said it was going to be about being a positive care partner, but times have changed. As researchers learn more, we learn to use different words. We all hear a lot about the value of being positive and it's all very true. Being positive makes you happier, healthier and even smarter. And, it makes you a more effective care partner. The more positive you are, the happier and more content your loved one will be.

But there's a glitch. Most people (80%) have brains hard-wired to be negative. Add the normal stress of caregiving, and even the few naturally positive care partners more likely than likely have negative brains. Telling a negative brain to "be positive" is too big a leap; it shorts out and goes into "worry," its default mode.

"Being constructive" is about working towards a goal, about gradually building a better life for you and your loved one, not a done deal like "being positive." That's our first work-around--watch for others! Negative people still have positive feelings--they just need noticing and nurturing. Sometimes, these get lost in the business of living, when the logistics of caregiving get in the way and the "fun" things aren't even noticed, let along enjoyed. (Reference)

The problem with negative emotions is that the brain views anything causing them as dangerous and therefore, urgent. These feelings grab our attention quickly and emphatically, overshadowing everything else. Then this "urgent" information gets pushed immediately into long term memory, bypassing much of the abstract thinking that keeps us on an even keel. Thus, negative thinking can be similar to that of the person living with dementia--and of stressed-out care partners: general, polarized, catastrophic, and personalized.

In contrast, equally important but non-urgent positives are processed slowly. Even after they get past those grabby negative emotions and manage to attract your attention, you have to keep them on your radar for over ten seconds to be remembered. A lot can--and does--slip by in that time. Work-around #2: Make a conscious choice to be aware of words, things, people and events that make you feel good. Once you notice them, make a conscious choice to pay attention to them and enjoy them.

"Why?" you ask. "Why should I spend my already limited time and energy on this? Why not just flow with it and accept the pain, the anger, the worry, the fear? Isn't that real life? Isn't it rather Pollyannaish to try to make it all more positive, uh, constructive?"

Ah, but Pollyanna was a happy person! The advantages of being happy are great for the individual and even greater for a dementia care partner because you are "feeling for two." That is if you choose to be happy, your loved one will mirror this and feel happier too. That's the first advantage, but there are a lot more:
  • Your loved one's happier, more content attitude will result in fewer dementia-related behaviors.
  • With less energy wasted on energy-hogging negativity, you will actually have more energy for your job, your loved one, others, yourself and life in general.
  • You will be healthier. Positive people are less at risk for most diseases, including dementia.
  • You will be less stressed, thus have more energy and clearer thinking.
  • With a clearer mind, you will see the broader picture and make better decisions.
  • You will accomplish more, resulting in better self-esteem.
  • You will feel emotionally stronger and better able to face the tasks you must do.
While caregiving can still be overwhelming, you will find it easier when you do it with a positive, can-do attitude. The more positive you become, the more others will enjoy being around you and you'll find that your positive attitude will rub off on them.

Next week: more about negativity and making conscious changes.

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.

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.
AD: Alzheimer's disease
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

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

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