I usually drive in silence, but if I spend any part of Sunday in the car, I like to listen to the stories told on public radio.
This past Sunday, I heard a great story about living with loved ones who are suffering Alzheimer's disease or dementia. The topic was: "what do you talk about?"
That's a decent question. You have a person who means a lot to you, who you've likely shared a lifetime with, and now you can't chose your normal conversational topics. You can't discuss family members, current events, nor even many past events. Beyond even coming up with something to talk about, there is the difficulty of holding a conversation when the person you are talking to forgets what/who/where in the middle of your few sentences together.
I do not have a family member with Alzheimer's or dementia, but I've had some as acupuncture patients. (Which, yes, acupuncture can help.) And I have known many friends who have dealt with this situation with their families. I think we all have.
The radio show covered one couple caring for their mother. The wife/daughter was looking for support, reaching out in books and online for ways to cope with these challenges. And one phrase changed everything: "step into their world."
This woman and her husband are both improv comedy actors. This was a lightbulb moment for her. "Step into their world" is a catchphrase used in improv to describe what you do when your acting partner has set the stage for your improvised scene. You step into their world, whatever it is they have created.
So, if she can do this for her acting, for her audiences, why can't she do this for her mother?
It changed EVERYTHING.
Instead of "no Mom, you can't go home, you live here now with us," it became "you want to go home? Tell me about your home."
Her mother became noticeably more agreeable and more relaxed. But the husband/son-in-law took it a step further. Instead of "no, mom, there aren't any monkeys outside the window," nor even "oh, monkeys? That's nice," it became:
"Monkeys? This time of year? It's a bit early for monkeys, don't you think?"
Mother replied "no, no they're out there now."
"Well, do you think we should catch one? Bring it inside?"
"No, we can't have a monkey in the house! That's ridiculous."
"Sure we can, if we put some pants on it."
And the conversation continued, with the mother laughing and having a good time, and even seeming to understand that they were just joking around as the conversation went on.
As the couple developed this new way of interacting with their mother, she became steadily more agreeable and easier to live with. And doesn't this make so much sense? Who likes having their reality questioned? Who likes being patronized?
And why must we all be so RIGHT all of the time? Why must we correct those who we think are wrong? How are we really helping the situation by insisting there are no monkeys outside the window? Maybe there ARE monkeys outside the window. Even if you can't see them, and really don't believe they are there, can't you allow someone else to see them without needing to assert your reality?
What a wonderful new paradigm this is for dealing with our loved ones who are suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia. Instead of trying to correct them or being frustrated by their "wrongness," try simply stepping into their reality. Allow THEM to tell YOU how it is. If you can let go of the need to impose your right way of knowing, you may find that they can relax and enjoy their lives if their reality isn't constantly coming into question. And isn't that what we want for our loved ones, anyhow? Not for them to be right about identifying places, people and time, but to merely be comfortable and happy?
For those of us who are not caring for loved ones with dementia, this can still be a great lesson for relaxing our boundaries on what is "right" and "wrong" with everyone we meet. If we want to truly understand anyone else's point of view, it will be a lot easier if we can drop our story and step into their reality in order to fully comprehend them.
So give it a try. Step out of your reality from time to time and meet someone else's. Stop and see the monkeys.
Now, on a different note :
Please consider joining us on
Wednesday, Aug 20
for a free
I'll be hosting it in combination with Sammie Orton of Greater Works- Beauty, Health & Wellness and Gina Gogue of Gogue Essentials.
We'll be discussing whole-body detoxification in the areas of using essential oils, colonic hydrotherapy, and detox protocols specific to heavy metals.
The workshop will take place at the Zen Center on the corner of 4th and J streets at 6:30pm. I hope to see you there! If you have any questions, feel free to call Radiant Family at (541) 244-0111.