Coping with dementia 0804

COVID-19 has been tough on us. Isolation, fear of infection and the confusing debate that has gone on over the scientific aspects of the virus are making us crazy.

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Debbie Selsavage

Coping with Dementia

None of us is immune to the negative social impact of our situation, and especially not individuals living with dementia, their families and their care partners.

Think you have it tough? How would you like it if the only contact with your loved one locked down in a memory care facility is to try to speak to them on a cell phone while waving and smiling through a window?

This is emotionally difficult for those of us with unimpaired thinking processes, so imagine how confusing it must be for your loved one who is living with dementia.

The challenges of COVID-19 have been a frequent topic within the care partner support groups I facilitate online each week. So, recently I began to suggest a technique that I have seen work time and again: Make a gratitude list, or write a letter of gratitude to someone you know.

That’s it, you say? A gratitude list when everything in my life seems to have gone to hell?

Yes. In fact, those times when we seem to have the least to be grateful for are the best times to identify and talk about the positive things in our lives. This is not some kind of new-age, rose-colored-glasses mind game. There is real science behind it.

Neuropsychologists have studied the effects of positive thinking for about 20 years now, and time and again the research shows that the active practice of gratitude releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These are the chemicals that make us feel good.

Not only is it momentarily beneficial, but over time it creates a systemic process where positive thoughts generate these beneficial chemicals, and the beneficial chemicals lead to more positive thoughts that may help you become a better care partner for your individual living with dementia.

World religions have known this for eons. They call it prayer; not the prayer when we ask for what we want, but the prayer when we give thanks for what we have.

Try it. Your first gratitude list may seem hard to do, and it may contain only one or two items. That’s OK. This is a qualitative process, not a quantitative exercise.

Think about those one or two items you are grateful for. When you least expect it, that dopamine and serotonin may kick in, and suddenly your list gets a little longer. The only thing you have to lose is your unhappy thoughts.

Debbie Selsavage is a certified trainer and consultant in the Positive Approach to Care, and a certified dementia practitioner. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC, is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia. Contact Debbie at deb@coping.today to learn about free support groups online.