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Caregiver SOS: How to Avoid Burnout and Fatigue

REUT-FlagDo you know the warning signs of caregiver burnout?

Whether you know someone who’s a caregiver or if you’re a caregiver yourself, it’s important to understand and recognize when a situation is becoming untenable. More than 40 million adults in North America are caregiving at least one loved one while also balancing other obligations. Many of these individuals (you may be one yourself) start performing this task out of a sense of duty or love, and for a while, the task may be sustainable.

But things can quickly spiral out of control, according to Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA.

“Being a caregiver can be a very rewarding experience, but it is also one of the most stressful situations you can find yourself in,” she says. “This is particularly true if the person you’re caring for has a dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, which requires around-the-clock care. Most family caregivers aren’t professional caregivers – they’re often spouses, parents and employees as well. Balancing the ‘regular’ responsibilities with the caregiving responsibilities can lead to extreme emotional, mental and physical fatigue.”

This fatigue is known as caregiver burnout, and many times caregivers and their loved ones don’t realize it’s happening until they’re deep in it.

“Our bodies aren’t meant to deal with stress on a constant basis,” says Andrea. “The heightened emotion of fight-or-flight causes the hormones to get out of whack in our body, leading to a variety of mental and physical issues. This includes depression, anger, a lowered immune system, cardiovascular issues and more.”

If you or someone you know is exhibiting the signs of caregiver fatigue or burnout, immediate steps must be taken to keep the caregiver from falling into a slump, experiencing a health issue and ultimately providing poor care for their loved one.

“If you notice any of these signs, consider it an SOS,” says Andrea.

Warning Signs of Caregiver Fatigue and Burnout

There are many signs of burnout, and a caregiver may experience one, several, or all of them. If you’re noticing any of these issues, consider them big flashing red lights of caution:

  • A lack of energy
  • Sleeping issues (either too much or too little)
  • Depression, mood swings and feelings of hopelessness
  • Becoming ill with more frequency and staying sick for longer
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Withdrawing from activities and becoming socially isolated
  • Having difficulty coping with everyday tasks
  • Becoming increasingly resentful of the person you’re caring for
  • Stomach issues such as ulcers

Avoiding Burnout and Fatigue

Andrea says it’s important for friends and family of the caregiver to know what signs to look for in order to intervene if the caregiver isn’t caring for themself. “When a caregiver is in the thick of everyday life, it can be hard to take a step back and see how bad things have become,” she says. “Sometimes it takes an outside figure to recognize the issues and take steps towards making things better.”

Ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make a person a bad caregiver. In fact, it shows great strength to know when you’re overwhelmed and need assistance. Remember that no one can do it alone. Reach out to friends and family with specific requests, such as watching your loved one for an afternoon, or picking up groceries while they’re running errands. If you know a caregiver, tell them point-blank how you’re willing to help and offer it whenever you can – for example, if you’re running to the grocery store, call your friend and say, “what can I pick up for you while I’m there?”

Remember the importance of breaks. Give yourself permission to take a break on a regular basis. Go on a walk around the block, read a book, watch a favorite TV show or head to the spa for a massage. As a caring friend or family member, offer to watch the individual with dementia so the caregiver can get out of the house and feel worry- and guilt-free.

Look into community resources. Besides friends and family, reach out to local agencies and organizations who might be able to help you have a bit of respite. Your local Area Agency on Aging is a great place to start. There are many organizations out there – transportation services, meal services, even on-call caregivers and home aides who could come in as often as you’d like. Memory care communities and senior centers may offer adult day care services, informational classes and other support networks.

Take care of your health. Eating right, getting enough sleep and regular physical activity are three of the most important ways caregivers can stay healthy and stave off caregiver strain and stress. The trick is to be creative and find ways to carve out time in your busy schedule. Grab little snippets of exercise here and there throughout your day (such as walking around the block, going up and down the stairs or doing sit-ups while watching Netflix). Set a sleep schedule and adhere to it. Create meal plans for the week and map out what’s needed in order to create healthy, nutritious meals for you and your loved one. Home meal kits like Blue Apron or grocery delivery services can be a great boon.

Stay connected. It’s easy to let caregiving become the central – and sole – focus of your life, but it’s important for caregivers to remember that they’re many other things besides just a caregiver. If you’re married, take time for date night with your spouse. Continue attending book club or happy hour with the girls, at least once in a while. And look into support groups where you can get connected to others who know exactly what you’re going through. Human beings thrive when we feel recognized, acknowledged and respected.

“The best way to avoid caregiver burnout is by finding those opportunities that fill you up, give you joy and make you happy,” says Andrea.

For more information about avoiding caregiver fatigue and burnout, or to learn more about our community, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

The Reutlinger Community’s mission is to provide high quality health care and social support services in a life-enhancing and stimulating environment with a commitment to Jewish values.

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any senior’s needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

The 10 Guidelines of Successful Dementia Caregiving

REUT-FlagWouldn’t it be wonderful if the tough things in life came with an instruction manual? That way, you would know exactly what to do when a problem arose, understand how things will progress and basically have all the answers on hand at all times. Unfortunately, life can be messy and complicated – which you, as a caregiver to someone with dementia, probably know all too well.

“Dementia is a disease that progresses differently for everyone and can seemingly change day to day,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the past decades to understanding how the disease affects individuals and what can be done to make an individual’s life as meaningful as possible, but even professional caregivers don’t have all the answers. If you’re a family caregiver, you’re facing a dual struggle: managing the disease while also maintaining a healthy relationship with your loved one.”

“Being a dementia caregiver is a day-in, day-out, 24/7 responsibility that can easily dominate your life,” says Andrea. “In order to maintain a sense of balance for yourself, avoid caregiver burnout and reduce everyone’s stress and anxiety, you’ll need to find ways to successfully manage your loved one while keeping them safe and cared for. That’s why we at The Reutlinger Community have 10 Guidelines that we follow to provide the best care to our residents with dementia.”

These guidelines, she says, are not specifically “rules” that must be followed, but guidance to shape your interactions, thoughts and feelings in order to move forward in a positive way. “Keeping these 10 Guidelines in mind will help you care for yourself as well as care for your loved one and help you nurture and deepen your relationship during the time you have left,” she says.

The 10 Guidelines of Dementia Caregiving

  1. Don’t argue or use logic to try and make a point.
    It’s natural to want to correct your loved one if he or she is acting in a way that doesn’t make sense or is wrong about something. However, trying to use logic to explain to your loved one why something needs to happen (for example, not allowing them to drive because they are no longer safe behind the wheel) is a futile gesture. More often than not, your loved one will become more confused, angry or agitated because they simply don’t have the capacity to view things logically. Instead, find ways to address the situation that avoid an upsetting confrontation (for example, move your loved one’s car to a storage space so it can’t be seen).
  1. Redirect as necessary.
    Redirection is one of the best tools a caregiver has in his or her toolbox. Instead of arguing with your loved one about why it’s important to take a bath, or if you notice that your loved one is becoming agitated and asking the same thing over and over, redirect the conversation or situation to get his or her mind off whatever track they’re on. This can help to immediately diffuse a situation and make things better. After your loved one is calm, you may be able to resume the task at hand.
  1. Provide simple choices.
    People with dementia can sometimes lack the ability to make a decision from a long list of options or an open-ended question (such as “what do you want to eat tonight?”). However, giving them choices can narrow down the options and help them feel empowered. Ask your mom if she’d like fish or chicken for dinner instead of opening the fridge and asking her to choose.
  1. Never shame.
    No one likes to be shamed, no matter how old or young we are. Scolding or making your loved one feel bad about something, whether it’s not remembering a conversation or because they had an accident, is one of the quickest ways to shut them down and hurt your connection. Although you may be exasperated about having to clean up another spill, take a deep breath and find ways to help avoid the issue in the future.
  1. Provide comfort and reassurance as much as possible.
    Many disruptive or unwanted behaviors, such as agitation or repetition, stem from your loved one feeling insecure or afraid. Remind your loved one that they are safe, that you care about them and that you won’t let anything bad happen to them. Sometimes that is all that’s needed.
  1. Reminisce instead of asking “remember when?”
    Sharing memories is a great way to bond with your loved one, but avoid asking “remember when,” especially when it comes to more recent events. Instead, take the lead and talk about memories and past events as statements to share your feelings and emotions. It’s possible, especially if you’re talking about long ago events, that your loved one will chime in with his or her memories.
  1. Treat your loved one with dignity and respect.
    Even as your loved one’s abilities fade, he or she remains an adult who deserves respect and to be treated with dignity. Never condescend or talk down to them. Instead, ask for their involvement and permission, and include them in conversations. Mom or Dad may not be able to participate in the conversation but being included can do wonders for making him or her feel secure and fulfilled.
  1. Celebrate their remaining abilities instead of focusing on what’s lost.
    Adapt favorite hobbies and activities so that your loved one can continue to enjoy them, even if their abilities make it impossible for them to do what they’ve always done. Maybe Mom can’t do delicate needlepoint anymore, but she can do a sewing exercise with yarn. Dad may not be able to whittle, but he can help you put together a birdhouse. Find things you can do together to make the exercise even more meaningful.
  1. Meet them where they are.
    People with dementia can slip into their own world and forget about the here and now. Mom may think she’s a schoolchild again, or Dad may believe he’s off to work at the factory just like he’s always done. Instead of trying to bring him or her back to the present (and perhaps cause emotional hurt), ask yourself if the delusion is harmful – and if it’s not, play along with them or offer explanations that fit into their current version of reality.
  1. Remember that you can’t do it all.
    You’re just one person, and it’s okay to ask for help when you need it. Being a caregiver is tough work, and you deserve and need some down time. Ask friends and family to help you out or connect with community services to see what’s available to you. Having a support system is essential for helping you care for your wellbeing, which in turn will make you a better caregiver for your loved one.

For more information about dementia caregiving, or to learn more about our community, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

The Importance of Maintaining a Loving Approach as a Dementia Caregiver

The Golden Rule urges us to “treat others as we would like to be treated.” This is easier said than done sometimes, particularly when you find yourself in a stressful or difficult situation – like being a caregiver to a loved one with dementia. Maintaining compassion and a loving approach is essential in this situation for both you and your loved one, but it can be hard to remember or act this way in the heat of the moment.

“Being a dementia caregiver is a 24/7 job, and there are many times when it can be difficult to handle your loved one,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. Getting angry or trying to “talk sense” into your loved one doesn’t work because of how the disease affects his or her brain. In fact, this can make the symptoms worse and make you and your loved one more agitated. Instead, says Andrea, you as a caregiver need to take a step back, practice patience and put yourself in your loved one’s shoes.

“Our understanding of how dementias such as Alzheimer’s affect the body and mind has deepened over the past few decades and given us many tools and tips for how to make daily life better and easier for our loved ones and ourselves,” she says. “Besides making advances in medicine and medical practices, we’ve also discovered just how important a loving approach is when caring for someone with dementia.”

According to Dr. Jacobo Mintzer, chairman of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, a loving approach is twofold: it involves showing compassion and patience, but also being proactive to make the situation better for loved ones and making decisions that you know are best for them.

Initially, many caregivers are trying to “preserve the person they knew for as long as possible, and That’s usually where they get themselves into trouble,” Mintzer says. “Because of this desperate need to try to preserve the person, caregivers will put themselves in dangerous situations, like letting the person with Alzheimer’s drive because it has always been important to them.”

This may feel a little bit like you’re “parenting” your loved one, but it’s important to make the distinction between a loving approach to raising a child versus showing loving concern for a senior with dementia. “Your loved one is still the person you knew and deserves respect and honor,” says Andrea. “It’s important to provide compassionate care without being condescending or belittling.”

Tips for Approaching Caregiving from a Loving Place

A loving approach means having compassion and doing our best to understand how our loved one is feeling. This is hard enough to do when you’re dealing with a healthy person, but can become confusing and difficult when faced with a brain-altering diseases like dementia. Even if they have the best intentions, caregivers might not know where to start in understanding their loved one’s reality. Here are some tips for putting yourself in the right space to approach caregiving from a positive, compassionate and loving place.

1.  Approach caregiving as an act of love, not an act of duty.
Many of us begin caregiving for a loved one with dementia because we feel it’s the right thing to do. This is an admirable feeling, but it can lead to resentment, anger and stress. Instead, recognize that caregiving is a gift you are giving to your loved one. It’s about helping them through this journey, not providing care because you feel obligated. At the end of the day, it’s a choice – and thinking about it in that way can be freeing.

2.  Let go of the need to be “perfect.”
We all want to be the best at what we’re doing. However, there’s no such thing as “perfect” when it comes to being a dementia caregiver. The disease is all-encompassing, and even professional caregivers can find it difficult at times to manage the realities. If you’re beating yourself up because you don’t feel like you’re doing enough, or feeling guilty because you lost your temper, allow yourself to feel those feelings and then forgive yourself. You’re only human, and tomorrow, as they say, is another day.

3.  Educate yourself on your loved one’s disease.
Knowledge is power, and learning everything you can about how dementia affects the brain and body will make it easier for you to understand why your loved one is acting in a certain way, or allow you to anticipate their needs. It also gives you the tools you need to advocate for your loved one’s care and make the most informed decisions. There are many resources available to you, both online and in real life. You may also wish to seek out support groups and your local Area Agency on Aging to find resources, tools and advice.

4.  Continue to nurture your relationship with your loved one.
Even as your loved one’s abilities and memories fade, they still remain the same person they were with the same desires, hopes, feelings and history. Take time each day to be with your loved one as a spouse or friend instead of as a caregiver. Pull out old scrapbooks and go through the photos together, or watch a favorite movie that always has you laughing. Get out of the house and go on a scenic drive, visit a favorite location or simply sit on the porch and watch the birds. Creating these memories together will nourish and sustain both you and your loved one and improve your quality of life. 

5.  Take care of yourself, too.
It’s hard to approach caregiving from a loving place if you’re not feeling your best. That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself as much as you’re taking care of your loved one. It’s the old airplane mask analogy – make sure your mask is in place before assisting someone else. Eat a healthy diet and be sure to get plenty of exercise. Find regular opportunities to do something you love, whether that’s grabbing a coffee with a friend, reading a good book or doing a project. Staying connected to the things that fill you up will help reduce your stress levels, rejuvenate your spirit and help you stay positive – all things that will help you be a more loving, productive and successful caregiver.

For more information about how to be a loving and compassionate caregiver to someone with dementia, or to learn more about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

Adjusting to Your New Role as a Spousal Caregiver

As more and more Baby Boomers enter their senior years, and we as a society are living longer, it’s more and more likely that, if you’re married, either you or your spouse will end up as caregiver for the other. While it’s not unusual for adult children or other close family members to become caregivers, it’s most common that spouses will care for each other as they age.

“Caregiving can mean anything from simple assistance with medication management and transportation, or it can be as intensive as providing in-home care for a spouse who has been diagnosed with dementia,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “Whether your caregiving assistance is a little or a lot, there’s no avoiding the fact that it will affect your relationship in some way.”

This, she says, can be a difficult transition for both spouses. “There are many changes that take place in relationships when one spouse begins caring for another, no matter how independent that spouse may be,” she says. “Oftentimes what starts off as just a little help can snowball into more and more assistance, which is taxing for anyone. It’s very easy for caregiving to take over the bulk of your relationship, leading to stress, depression and overall burnout.”

According to a 2015 AARP study titled Caregiving for Older Adults, approximately 3.7 million seniors in the U.S. are spousal caregivers. The report also states that 40 percent of spousal caregivers report their role as highly stressful. “Caregiving for a spouse has unique challenges and can get in the way of intimacy and foster an awkward sense of dependency,” says Andrea. “Fortunately, if you and your spouse take the time to look at your situation with clear eyes, make some plans and adjust accordingly, the transition doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly difficult.”

Tips for Adjusting to the Spousal Caregiver Role

If you find yourself in a situation where you will be a caregiver for your spouse, here are some tips for helping to make the transition a little smoother.

Reach out to other spousal caregivers.
The best advice and tips you can get are from people who have gone through the same experience you’re facing. Ask your friends and search online for those you know who have either served as a primary caregiver for their spouse, or for someone who has had to act as a caregiver for a time. Having someone you know who can provide firsthand experience will be invaluable, and he or she can also be a source of support in the coming days.

Give yourself time to grieve and adjust.
Many spousal caregivers can feel guilty about their emotions as they adjust to their new normal. It’s common to feel overwhelmed, stressed, angry and even like you’ve suffered a great loss. Understand that your feelings are valid and it’s completely natural to have these reactions. You and your spouse are undergoing a huge change that more than likely has upset your plans for the future in some way. Remember to give yourself grace, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others to talk about how you’re feeling. At the same time, don’t forget the importance of sharing and communicating with your spouse. Although you may not feel like you can “burden” your spouse with your feelings, remember that you two are still a team, and sharing your thoughts, fears and emotions in a healthy way are one of the best ways to grow and nurture your relationship.

Plan for the future.
Becoming a spousal caregiver is a life-changing journey, especially if your spouse has a chronic illness like dementia. It’s not always fun to think about, but you will need to sit down with your spouse and other appropriate parties to make a plan for the future. When you, the spousal caregiver, get older and need assistance of your own, how will you and your spouse handle that? Are there others in your family who can step up from time to time to give you the space and relief you need? Do you and your spouse wish to stay at home, or would it make more sense to move to a community where health needs and issues can be more easily accommodated? By making plans early on, you and your loved one can make the future less scary and give you both peace of mind.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
We promise to be there for our spouse “in sickness and in health,” so it’s no surprise that so many spousal caregivers feel like they have to do everything themselves. However, this is a recipe for burnout and exhaustion. After all, even professional caregivers get time off. It’s important for you to ask for help, and ask often, so that you don’t get caregiver burnout. You may be amazed at how many friends and family members will jump at the chance to help, especially if you ask them to do specific tasks, like picking up medications, going grocery shopping or sitting with your spouse for a few hours every week. Be clear, be direct and don’t be offended or disheartened if people say no. You can also look into community resources, like in-home caregivers or local organizations that offer caregiving services.

Be kind to yourself and to your spouse.
Both you and your spouse are undergoing a life change, and with it will come growing pains. There will be times when you’re angry, tired, stressed and snippy with each other. Be as patient as possible with your spouse and yourself. Be sure to give yourself (and your spouse) space to be alone and do things that are important to you. Get enough exercise, eat right and find something to do for yourself every day to de-stress.

Remember to spend time as a married couple.
It’s easy to focus on the caregiving role so much that the relationship – your marriage – gets pushed to the side. This leads to loneliness, resentment and feelings of isolation. Remember that, above all, you and your spouse are married and that relationship needs to take precedence over everything else. Schedule regular times to nurture your relationship and do things you love to do together. Go on evening walks, or dance in the living room to your favorite songs. Have a date night in with your favorite takeout and an old movie, or cook a romantic meal together. You may need to adapt your activities to reflect your loved one’s abilities, but that’s okay. The quality time that you spend together as a couple will help sustain and grow your relationship in ways you never thought possible before.

For more information about adjusting to the role of a spousal caregiver, or to learn more about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

A Caregiver’s Guide to Effective Communication Strategies for Dementia

Communication with others is essential to every aspect of our daily life. We’re always communicating, whether it’s with a glance, our voice or sending a text. For most of us, our brains allow us to filter the communication we receive and use it to inform our actions and responses. For someone with dementia, though, the disease causes the brain to change in a variety of ways, making what we consider normal communication challenging. This poses many difficulties and frustrations for both the individual with dementia and their loved ones.

“It’s easy to forget that just because the person with dementia isn’t able to communicate in the way we’re used to, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to communicate,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “The desire to connect and be heard is still present, even as the brain is affected by the disease. Caregivers need to have good listening skills, patience and develop new strategies to help improve communication between themselves and their loved ones.”

Early-Stage Communication in Dementia

In the early stages of dementia, one of the first things a caregiver experiences is that their loved one will forget things or have a hard time speaking. Verbal communication is one of the first abilities that becomes hijacked by the disease, causing individuals to have difficulties including:

  • Not being able to find the right word.
  • Reverting to a native language.
  • Repeating questions, words or stories.
  • Substituting words.
  • Mixing ideas and phrases together.
  • Describing an object instead of calling it by its name.
  • Speaking less often.
  • Losing a train of thought.

Caregivers may at first find communication confusing in this stage because the individual still functions at a high level and acts “normal.” Here are some tips for establishing successful communication in these early stages:

  • Continue to communicate with your loved one and don’t assume that he or she doesn’t understand what you’re saying because of the disease.
  • Ask your loved one what they need help with, and what they’re comfortable doing on their own.
  • Don’t speak over or exclude your loved one from conversations. He or she is still an adult. In the same vein, always speak directly to him or her.
  • Give your loved one plenty of time to respond when you ask questions. Resist the urge to interrupt.
  • Ask simple questions and give limited choices if necessary. Complicated questions and run-on sentences can be confusing.

Mid-Stage Communication in Dementia

The middle stage of dementia is usually the longest and can last for many years. During this phase, your loved one will find it more and more difficult to communicate, and will require more and more personal care. As a caregiver, you will find that you are responsible for quite a lot, such as direct care, coordinating assistance and juggling everything your loved one needs with your needs. Here are some tips for successful communication during this stage:

  • When talking to your loved one, minimize distractions as much as possible. Due to the disease, he or she will have difficulty filtering out background noise, like the TV or a crowd.
  • Speak slowly, clearly and with eye contact. Keep your voice pleasant and calm, since your loved one will understand your tone of voice even if they can’t interpret what you’re saying.
  • Give your loved one plenty of time to respond, and resist the urge to interrupt or suggest words.
  • Be kind and offer reassurance as much as possible. Let your loved one know they are safe and loved.
  • When you become frustrated, avoid the urge to correct or criticize. Listen to the meaning behind what your loved one is saying and try and interpret from there. Is he or she hungry? Thirsty? Need to use the bathroom?
  • When performing tasks, break them down into simple, step-by-step instructions. Once each step is completed, your loved one can continue to the next.
  • Give visual clues while you’re speaking. For example, if you say, “are you hungry?”, point to the refrigerator. Or if your loved one is performing a task, you can demonstrate what needs to happen to give them confidence.
  • Consider writing notes and placing them around the home can help reduce confusion and repetitive questions.

 Late-stage Communication in Dementia

In the final stages of dementia, your loved one’s ability to communicate verbally will decrease or go away entirely. He or she may rely solely on nonverbal communication such as sounds or facial expressions. He or she will require around-the-clock care, and this is usually a point where you as a caregiver will need to hire additional assistance or place your loved one in a Memory Care community where they can receive the assistance they need. Here are some tips for successful communication during this stage:

  • Encourage your loved one to communicate nonverbally. Ask him or her to point to things and ask questions to figure out their intent.
  • Use other senses to communicate with him or her. A caring touch, delicious smells or happy sounds are great ways to bond.
  • Think about how your loved one is communicating to help determine what they’re communicating. Sometimes the emotions they’re expressing are more important than the words coming out of their mouth.
  • It’s okay to not speak if you don’t know what to say. Your love and presence can sometimes be all that’s needed.

 Overall Tips for Successful Communication

  • Be patient with your loved one and give them plenty of time to express themselves.
  • Learn how to interpret what they’re really saying by paying attention to nonverbal clues.
  • Pay attention to your body language, because actions can really speak louder than words.
  • Always treat your loved one with respect – don’t speak down to them or use baby talk.
  • Offer choices to provide your loved one autonomy.

If you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a break and do something kind for yourself. A rest can give you just what you need to refocus and provide the best possible care for your loved one.

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

Honoring Who They Were by Honoring Who They Still Are: Creating Opportunities for Success (Part 2 of 4)

In this four part series, we will walk you through ways to help honor your loved one throughout all stages of the dementia journey. No matter how advanced the disease may be, there are plenty of opportunities for you to connect with your loved one, show your care and create moments that can be cherished.

Every one of us has the need to feel successful and have a purpose. This starts from when we are very small and learning to explore the world all the way to a peaceful old age. This need doesn’t go away when someone is living with dementia. In fact, the desire for success and meaning becomes all the more important as abilities start to fade due to the progressive nature of the disease.

“Even though your loved one may lose aspects of their memory, they still are adults with needs, desires and passions, and they retain the desire to express themselves and be meaningful,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “They feel the loss of abilities quite keenly and need some way to express that. By providing opportunities for them to succeed – no matter how small it may feel – you can provide satisfaction and a sense of well-being that’s unmatched by any other care we can provide.”

When Helping Can Be Hurtful

As caregivers, it’s easy for us to want to help our loved one by doing things for them. While this comes from a place of caring, it also makes it very easy for us to take over. Here are just a few examples of when “taking over” can be more harmful than helpful:

  • Your loved one is struggling to do something
  • It’s taking a long time for your loved one to do something
  • You’re trying to do everything for your loved one, so they know you care and are there for them

However, it’s important to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. How do you feel if someone takes over something you’re trying to do? It may make you feel ashamed, like you’re not good enough or not smart enough to figure it out. It may also anger you, because it can signify that you have no independence or no say in a matter. Or it may make you feel depressed or apathetic, because why bother trying to do anything when someone else will just end up doing it for you?

Even though your loved one has problems with their memory, they still have these feelings, which can have long-lasting effects on their psyche and well-being. Also, because the ability to make judgment calls are diminished, it’s easier for them to have negative reactions to your assistance because they may not be able to ‘see’ your intended goal.

Making Successful Moments Happen

There are two forms of memory that we can tap into to help our loved ones feel more successful without patronizing them: procedural and declarative.

Procedural memory is colloquially defined as “muscle memory.” This is the body memory that comes from doing something repeatedly, like brushing our hair or tying our shoes. Declarative memory is related to remembering an event or a fact. These two types of memories are stored in different parts of our brain, which means that dementia affects them differently. Caregivers can use these two types of memories to positively support and create moments of success for their loved ones.

Procedural memory can sometimes be the easiest way to encourage and promote success for your loved one. Think about the things they can still do, and then provide avenues for them to accomplish that. You can also provide support for the things they have difficulty with by setting up a prepared environment or giving them tools that make things easier.

For example, perhaps your loved one can still get dressed but they have some difficulty from time to time. In order to set them up for success, make sure that their environment is prepared to make the task as easy as possible. Is the room bright enough so they can see what they’re doing? Is there adequate privacy so they don’t feel exposed? Is the room warm enough, and is it free of distractions? Is everything set out neatly so there’s no room for confusion?

Since muscle memory is something that’s instinctual, sometimes just helping your loved one start to do something – or showing them how to do something – is enough to get their body jump-started so they can “take over” the task. An example of this is putting a brush into your loved one’s hand and then guiding it through their hair if they hesitate or don’t seem to know what to do with it. After a stroke or two, their muscle memory can take over and they’re able to complete the activity by themselves.

Procedural memory can be very successful because it’s easy to tell when something has been “completed.” Whether it’s getting dressed, helping to wash dishes or finishing an arts and crafts project, there’s something tangible that your loved one can see as something they’ve “done.”

Declarative memory can sometimes be a little more difficult because it deals with memory, which can be a fleeting thing for those with dementia. However, since long-term memories tend to stay longer and fresher in their brains, reminiscing with your loved one is a great exercise to promote success and providing happy, meaningful moments. Here are some things you can do to help spur declarative memory:

  • Create a photo album of family members, or bring out old photo albums and go through them with your loved one. Prompt conversation by discussing what’s in the picture, especially if it’s something you yourself remember. Don’t ask your loved one “do you remember this or that?” Instead, describe what you’re seeing, and if your loved one responds, encourage them to talk further.
  • Put on some music from their childhood or a favorite song that you know they’ve always loved. Music has been shown to unlock memories in a surprising way and can trigger all sorts of reactions. Your loved one may sing along, clap along with the music or even start talking about memories associated with the song. Even if these don’t happen, you can dance together in the living room or simply hum along with the music. Simply spending time in a happy environment is beneficial to both you and your loved one.

Creating opportunities for success throughout the day helps brighten the lives of our loved ones with dementia – and, by extension, the caregiver. Living in the moment and celebrating the small victories can make each moment happy and fulfilled.

For more information about our community, our culture, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and

Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

Preserving Their Dignity: Utilizing Technology in Caregiving (Part 4 of 4)

At The Reutlinger Community, we strive to educate residents, future residents and adult children about all aspects of the dementia process and best practices for ensuring the best quality of life for your loved one – and yourself. In this four-part series, we discuss the importance of providing dignity throughout the dementia journey and how you can connect compassionately and in fulfilling ways.

We don’t always think of the words “seniors” and “technology” in the same sentence. But perhaps we all need to rethink that. As technology becomes more and more commonplace and integrated into our lives, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s moving from “the cool new thing” to “a capability that can help everyone improve quality of life.” Think of the Apple Watch® with its fitness-tracking abilities, or apps that allow diabetics to read their blood sugar with the press of a button – and adjust insulin accordingly. Sure, being “plugged in” all the time can have its disadvantages. But it can also, surprisingly, provide safety and dignity, especially when it comes to caregivers and their senior loved ones.

“Obviously, the first thing that many caregivers use technology for is research and gathering information about how to help their loved one, but these days, that’s just scratching the surface,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “There are literally hundreds of applications and products available that can be used to help improve the caregiving experience and provide senior loved ones with a better quality of life.”

In fact, says Andrea, technology has the benefit of allowing seniors to be more independent and self-reliant than ever before. Technology can give seniors access to the world without them ever having to leave the house. “Apps like Facebook or Skype allow seniors to stay in touch with loved ones and interact with friends face-to-face without them having to be in the same room or time zone,” she says. “Other technologies can keep seniors safe, provide physical activity and encourage lifelong learning, just to name a few.”

The Benefits of Digital Technology for Caregivers

Caregiving for a loved one is a full-time job that often has to be juggled with other full-time jobs like careers, raising kids and everything else that comes with a full, separate life. That doesn’t leave a lot of spare time – but that’s just one of the ways that technology can help caregivers.

These days, technology allows you to outsource everything from the obvious (like housekeeping and yardwork) to the surprising (grocery shopping, transportation and even time management). Grocery delivery services are becoming more ubiquitous at local stores, and services like TaskRabbit make it easy to hire helpers for anything from house cleaning to assembling furniture to even being a part-time assistant. Services like Uber and Lift can help time-strapped caregivers coordinate transportation for senior loved ones who need to go to and from appointments or events.

There are plenty of senior- and caregiving-specific technologies that have been created to help caregivers and their loved ones live more freely, as well. Assistive technology devices (ATDs) like stairlifts, hearing aids, power scooters and wheelchairs, magnifying devices for computers and voice-controlled clocks with medication reminders are all things that can be used to streamline caregiving and take some of the heavy lifting off your shoulders (literally and figuratively).

The Benefits of Digital Technology for Seniors

Digital technology provides a variety of benefits for seniors, and that goes double for individuals with dementia. For example, wearable tech like tracking watches can help caregivers keep track of what’s going on with their loved ones even if they’re out running errands. Medical alert systems like bracelets or necklaces can allow seniors to call for assistance instantly. Here are some other ways that digital technology can assist with providing a better quality of life for your loved one with dementia:

  • Staying fit. Technology makes it easy to exercise mind, body and soul without ever having to leave the house. Video game systems like the Nintendo Wii allow for light-impact versions of favorite exercise like bowling, tennis and others (as well as more traditional aerobics and cardio). Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube offer video series of practically any exercise you can imagine, plus meditation, calming exercises and therapy videos. And, of course, games like Words with Friends and other fun activities can help keep cognitive functions as sharp as possible while providing a bit of social interaction, too.
  • Promoting independence and dignity. Being able to accomplish tasks and use their existing abilities will boost your loved one’s self-esteem, can assist with slowing down cognitive decline, and also can help you relax a little, too. Simple things like smart pill boxes that alert seniors when it’s time to take medicine can allow your loved one to take his or her own pills without you having to manage it. Links to favorite apps or an easy way to access preferred entertainment can help seniors manage their time and do the things they enjoy, all on their own.
  • Providing security and helping reduce unwanted behaviors. Some technologies are specifically designed to help ease behaviors like anxiety, agitation and confusion. For example, clocks that have been designed to be easy to read will help someone who is confused easily and is worried about what day or time it is. Special power strips will monitor electrical appliances and can send alerts to caregivers if the stove, curling iron or other item has not been turned off. There are also personal assistance devices that can play reminders and messages to help manage and soothe your loved one with dementia, such as reminders to lock the door when they leave, or to provide reassurance when you aren’t available.
  • Helping communication. The Alzheimer’s Society reports that technologies like iPads and other interactive devices can help seniors with dementia to better express themselves through creativity and provide ways to communicate with their surroundings.
  • Memory-boosting. Exercising the mind can help stave off further cognitive decline and allow sharpening of abilities that remain. There are many games available now that have been specifically designed to help individuals with dementia. A surprising memory-booster that technology can help with is through music. It’s been proven time and time again that music can allow seniors to unlock memories of their past and can actually help improve communication. Satellite or internet radio can provide a ready-to-go playlist of favorites for your loved one to enjoy again and again.

For more information about using technology in the caregiving space, or to learn more about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted LivingEnhanced Assisted LivingMemory CareSkilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

Preserving Their Dignity: Tips for Difficult Conversations (Part 3 of 4)

At The Reutlinger Community, we strive to educate residents, future residents and adult children about all aspects of the dementia process and best practices for ensuring the best quality of life for your loved one – and yourself. In this four-part series, we discuss the importance of providing dignity throughout the dementia journey and how you can connect compassionately and in fulfilling ways.

When your loved one has dementia, it may seem like every conversation ends up being a difficult one. What type of care should Mom or Dad receive? What will happen when he or she requires more help? How should end-of-life treatment be handled?

“Hard conversations will happen throughout all phases of the dementia journey – it’s just a matter of fact considering the course of the disease,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. Hopefully, you and your loved one (as well as other interested parties) will have important conversations as soon as the disease is diagnosed, but as with any plan, you’ll need to revisit it on a regular basis.

“Eventually, you or your loved one’s designated representative will need to be the decision-maker for care plans and other mid- to late-stage dementia decisions,” says Andrea. “This is easier for everyone involved if your loved one’s wishes are clear and everyone is on the same page regarding next steps. However, even if your loved one is in the more advanced stages of dementia, there are still ways to help preserve their dignity, respect them as a person and take their needs into consideration.”

Having Difficult Conversations Early Stages

There are many tough decisions that have to be made at the beginning of the dementia journey. It’s easy for family members to leap into action and want to make decisions for their loved one. Although this comes from a place of love, remember that your loved one is the person who should ultimately make as many of the hard decisions as possible.

“Too many people hear the word dementia and assume that their loved one can no longer function,” says Andrea. “But most of the time, the person with dementia is still highly functioning and can think clearly, rationally and make their own decisions. If the disease is still in the early stages, you, your loved one and other interested parties should work together to plan for the future.”

Things like treatment and care, living situations and determining powers of attorney should be decided at this time. Ask your loved one to clearly state their wishes for what they want to happen “down the road” – it’s a good idea to create documentation that can be easily shared.

Having Difficult Conversations – Later Stages

As the disease progresses, caregivers will end up having to make more and more decisions on behalf of loved ones with dementia. Some of these may have already been figured out, but plans can change based on the situation. While your loved one won’t be able to make every decision, there are still many opportunities for them to take control and make appropriate decisions.

“Although your loved one may not be able to make decisions about specific courses of treatment, he or she may be able to decide what to wear that day, or what TV show to watch,” says Andrea. “Dementia affects communication and speaking, but it’s still possible for your loved one to express their desires and wishes. You’ll just need to be patient, choose the right moment and understand how they’re trying to communicate.”

Unfortunately, there may come a time when you need to have a tough conversation and your loved one can’t – or won’t – participate. This may require you to work with a third party, like a doctor or therapist, or even make an executive decision. Things like this could be having a conversation about your loved one quitting driving, or deciding that Mom or Dad need to move to a Memory Care community.

It’s important to meet your loved ones “where they are” and understand what types of decisions they can and can’t make. For example, your loved one doesn’t want to move to a Memory Care community, but you know that it’s the right choice. Instead of trying to convince him or her why moving is necessary, you should present the situation and provide opportunities for discussion. Here are some tips for having a hard conversation:

  • Treat your loved one as the adult they are. Don’t talk down to your loved one or treat them like a child. Even if their abilities are being lost, people with dementia can still understand when they’re not being treated like adults, and that’s incredibly frustrating to them. Remember that they’re still a person who deserves respect and dignity, and be sure you always approach conversations that way.
  • Ask open-ended questions and give plenty of time for response. Instead of saying “do you want to move to Memory Care?” say instead, “How do you feel about moving to Memory Care?” Then, give your loved one as much time to respond as needed. It can be difficult to form responses, so be patient.
  • Be flexible. Your loved one may be “sharper” at certain times of the day than others. Avoid having a conversation at a “bad” time, and if you start a conversation and realize your loved one is getting anxious or frustrated, go do something else and come back to the conversation at a better time.
  • Use “I” and “we” phrases. Instead of saying things like “you should…” or “you’re going to… ,” talk about your feelings and emotions. “I feel overwhelmed and can’t give you the quality care you deserve,” is an appropriate thing to say, as is “I’m scared you’re going to seriously hurt yourself going up and down the stairs all the time.”
  • Be understanding. The world can be a confusing and scary place for those with dementia. Be kind and know that your loved one is doing the best they can – as are you. Reassure them and yourself that you want them to have fun, live their best life possible and be happy, and that everything you’re doing is to make that happen.

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted LivingEnhanced Assisted LivingMemory CareSkilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

Preserving Their Dignity: Humor in Caregiving (Part 1 of 4)

Dignity. It’s a big word that can hold a lot of different meanings. We say someone is “dignified” when they carry themselves well, are poised and command a presence – that they are worthy of respect or honor. The concept and discussion of dignity has been, through the millennia, a matter of philosophy, religion, human rights, law and medicine. Many people view it as a fundamental right, and all of us – no matter our age our status – have an innate desire to have personal dignity and to be treated with dignity.

“Everyone is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect, no matter what their abilities or health status, but sometimes this can be difficult to remember when caregiving for someone with dementia,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. No matter how much the disease changes an individual, says Andrea, it’s important for everyone in their circle – from doctors to caregivers to loved ones – to remember that dignity is essential to quality of life.

At The Reutlinger Community, we strive to educate residents, future residents and adult children about all aspects of the dementia process and best practices for ensuring the best quality of life for your loved one – and yourself. In this four-part series, we’ll discuss the importance of providing dignity throughout the dementia journey and how you can connect compassionately and in fulfilling ways.

The Healing Power of Humor

There’s a reason the old trope that “laughter is the best medicine” has stuck around. Humor is just one of those things that unites us. We giggle with our babies. We laugh with our friends. We guffaw when our older relative says or does something funny. It’s a great way to relieve stress, break the tension and connect with others. Sharing humor instinctively says, “I understand you and we have something in common.”

Humor doesn’t just give us warm fuzzies. According to new research, humor can be as effective as some drugs when it comes to managing agitation in dementia patients. A recent published study from the Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine in Suita, Japan, discovered that humor has positive effects that can last for weeks following a therapy session. Although dementia patients can lose abilities like smiling there are some types of laughter that remain. For example, some patients will laugh or smile after they’ve had a good night’s sleep, or if they’ve enjoyed their meal. The Japanese study also shows that dementia patients may smile or laugh when they’re recognized for an accomplishment or when they reach a goal.

People with dementia can understand “humor” as a concept, too. While the things they find funny may shift as they age and progress through the dementia journey, humor can still be a tool that caregivers use to connect and entertain.

How Humor Can Help You (and Your Loved One) Connect and Care

It’s common for older people to use humor as a coping mechanism, so it should come as no surprise that institutions are using comedy as therapy for older adults – particularly those with dementia. Although it’s necessary to be sensitive to the unique challenges of dementia patients and ensure that laughter is always “with, not at,” humor has shown to be a great coping tool for caregivers, helps build relationships between caregivers and patients and can help defuse tensions and problematic behavior from people with dementia – all of which leads to a heightened quality of life. Here are some ways you can find humor in everyday situations and create opportunities to laugh together.

Find humor in the moment.

While it’s easy to focus on the problems when you’re a caregiver, there are ways to “lighten up” by recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities for comedy. You, your loved one or a passer-by may say something funny – go ahead and laugh! (As long as your loved one understands you’re not laughing at them, of course.

Encourage their sense of humor.

What type of humor does your loved one like? Silly “Dad jokes” or more slapstick options like The Three Stooges? Find what makes him or her laugh, and encourage it by renting videos, watching YouTube clips or even reading funny stories out loud.

Laugh when prompted.

Although this sounds a little strange, there will be times when your loved one finds humor in a situation that you may not find funny or think is a little strange. However, when he or she is laughing about something, go ahead and join in the fun! Even if you’re not feeling upbeat, just smiling will ignite those serotonin sensors in your brain and give you a positive boost.

Keep it positive.

While humor can be found in darker moments, generally it’s best to keep it positive and harmless, like a silly knock-knock joke or watching a video of a cat squeezing into a very tiny box. You can also lighten the mood by sharing funny stories or talk about a time in the past that was humorous – bonus points if it’s a time you and your loved one spent together.

“It’s important to think of humor as a gift we give each other,” says Andrea. “When we make someone laugh, we feel important – which is why encouraging humor in loved ones with dementia is a way to help respect and preserve their dignity. By sharing humor together, you’re validating them as a unique person, which is something we all strive for.”

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.