Come, sit next to me.

Come sit here next to me. Somehow this sentence is always comforting. It is an invitation one expects from someone who cares – a friend, a lover, a parent or grandparent. It feels comforting, reassuring, welcoming. And non threatening. We are on the same level, and I don’t have to feel that you are looking at me. We can look in front of us, non confrontational. And I can feel you next to me. I might even hold your hand or place my hand on your knee. Gently.
We do not always have the courage to look someone in the eye. Sometimes we just want to avoid the reality of a stare, the vulnerability of facing someone or something. Then we need to just sit next to someone. I want to suggest that it is a way of dealing with the difficult things in our lives – pain, sadness, loss, trauma, fear. We are taught that we should face things head on, that we should look them in the eye, stare them down, be strong, be brave. Stand tall. Sometimes we simply do not have the courage to do this and just want to run away. Well maybe “come sit here next to me” is an alternative.
For many people dealing with a loved one who is living with dementia is too much to face at times. We do not have the answers as this is not what we signed up for. We have no idea what to do and beat ourselves up every time we make a mistake. We feel terrible when we are not the brave superstars that everyone says we should be. We lie awake at night, worrying about where this is going. We always feel that we have to ACT, that we have to DO, make things better, solve problems and have answers.
What if we simply invite this “unknown” to come and sit next to us. To be simply BE with that feeling – the fear, anxiety, anger or hurt, the unknown. Invite it to come and sit next to you. Close enough to feel its presence. Next to you so that you are aware of its presence, but don’t quite have to look it in the eye. Close enough to feel it, smell it, hear it breath. And just be with it, in the now, sitting and getting to know it. Then perhaps put your hand on its knee, gently feeling what it feels like. No need to talk or to explain or to answer questions. Just BE.
In this way we can get to know each other on a much deeper level. Sit there for a long time. Watch the sun set. Hear the birds. Don’t rush. Then get up and go on with your life. Maybe make a date for another sitting tomorrow. And the day after. And perhaps you will get into a pattern of sitting comfortably with the discomfort of whatever it is that is difficult for you. The same would apply for your loved one living with dementia. You do not have to talk or do anything. Ask them gently “come, sit here next to me”. Your presence is the biggest gift that you can ever give someone. Be generous with it, for it will open your heart and your mind to receive that person’s vulnerability and share your own.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Anticipatory grief

What Is Anticipatory Grief? “Anticipatory grief is defined as grief that occurs before death (or another great loss) in contrast to grief after death (conventional grief). Rather than death alone, this type of grief includes many losses, such as the loss of a companion, changing roles in the family, fear of financial changes, and the loss of dreams of what could be.”
My friend is experiencing a deep sense of grief. Her husband is living with dementia. Amidst the challenges of COVID and a deepening sense of global angst, this grief is gripping and at times overwhelming. I have seen this often, and mostly it manifests as a withdrawal or disconnect from the person who is expected to die. Many, many people in fact take leave of a loved one long before their death as a result of this anticipated experience of loss. If nothing else, this process of anticipatory grief is as real as is the grief experienced after a person has died.
The sad thing is that this reaction to impending loss means that both the person who is grieving and the person whose death is imminent are losing out on quality time and connection. Let’s just stand still here for a minute. We are all going to die. We are all going to die. I am not for a second diminishing the fact that anticipatory grief is not a debilitating emotional condition.
However – I learn from my friend. In her deep sense of the anticipated loss she is getting closer and closer to her husband. She has forgiven him all the little things that – like in every long partnership – were obstacles on their way. She sleeps with him every night. She holds him, laughs with him, lives with him and loves him more than she has ever done before. She embraces their time together, she is fully focussed on his needs. She honours him as husband and not as “patient”. She props him up, makes sure that he is always immaculately dressed, groomed, that his teeth are flossed and the hair in his ears and nose trimmed. He wears a spectacular pair of spectacles, and an even snazzier pair of sunglasses. He is first and foremost her husband and lover – in spite of the fact that he loves with advanced dementia.
I always say that death teaches us how to live. But it’s too late when someone dies to have the life we should have had with them. That is why I think anticipatory grief is a good thing – IF we are not paralysed by it. So. Think of the people you love. Try and imagine their death. Sit with that, visualise it, feel it deep in your Soul. Sit with it a bit longer. Now get up and embrace the life you have with them. With open arms and an open heart.
When next you hear someone say “she is no longer our Mother” or “we don’t visit her in the old age home because she doesn’t know” – think of this. (S)he is always your Mother/Father/Husband/Wife. Always. Even after their death they will remain that. Death – and our anticipation of it – must be foremost in our minds. It will teach us to be more present, to be more mindful, to appreciate how precious this life is. And it will hopefully bring us closer here and now.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 Rayne.Stroebel@mindsmatter.co.za www.mindsmatter.co.za

Presence

We are all interrelated and interdependent. No person exists merely as one person. I am the becoming of my mother and future. Our children are our expression. In Afrikaans the word “vergestalt” describes how language gives meaning, makes concrete our feelings and emotions. We express ourselves through language. But what if I start to find language difficult? Does that mean that my feelings disappear?
People living with cognitive impairment often find language difficult. This means that the way that they express themselves becomes difficult. If we cannot say how we feel it does not mean that we stop feeling. On the contrary, I think it often makes our feelings stronger. So inside of us things would start boiling and percolating, all these feelings and emotions and thoughts that we can no longer express are now all bottled up inside. Whilst many people communicate in non-verbal ways, and often do so very well, it is our understanding and interpreting of their non-verbal communication that lacks insight and understanding. We all come to each other with our own filters and preconceptions. It is very hard to be completely open to the message that someone is trying to express, especially when that message is expressed in a non-verbal way.
The result is that people living with dementia will often simply stop trying to communicate. NOT because they are living with dementia and lose their ability to communicate, but because we simply do not have the ability to be present enough, take the time and listen intently enough to “hear” them. The problem lies with us, not with them. Slowly their frustrations will get the upper hand and they will withdraw inward more and more. They will consciously cut off from the world because it becomes just too hard to navigate our inability to communicate with them.
The further dilemma is that the world also then gives up, thinking that the person with dementia no longer FEELS, because they no longer express their needs, desires or thoughts. There can be nothing further from the truth. And then, we stop treating people living with dementia like human beings. We let them sit in a chair for an entire day without any meaningful engagement. We talk over them. We administer tasks like bathing and dressing without as much as acknowledging them, let alone asking their permission. We crush their medication into their food when they refuse to swallow it. We dehumanize them to the point where they simply become living dead people. Bodies. Numbers.
It is very hard to bring about any change in the way that people living with dementia are treated in many residential care homes. I see a new interest in this globally, with the USA focussing on a new “Care for Our Seniors” act being proposed as a step towards transformation. Sadly, the focus (in my opinion) is again off mark. Unless we start with the rights of the people for whom we propose to care, no amount of quality indicators or workforce development or structural changes will make a difference. Yes, employees need to be paid more. However, an increase in pay will not improve care. The fanciest building in the world will not create a life worth living. The best standards, and the best oversight of such standards will not change the hearts and minds of the people who care for the vulnerable.
It is only when we get to the point where we truly understand the ecobiopscychosocialspiritual complexity of our being-in-the-world that we start seeing change. From the inside out, not the other way around. Andries Baart’s www.andriesbaart.nl/presentie/ <www.andriesbaart.nl/presentie/> brings us to the essence of care. We need to shift our focus away from the concrete towards a more holistic approach, one that is truly ethical ethicsofcare.org/becoming-a-care-ethical-institution/ <ethicsofcare.org/becoming-a-care-ethical-institution/> These are very hard questions that we need to ask ourselves. They require that we become very still, that we look deep inside, that we build the bridge of empathy towards a greater understanding of the vulnerability and precarity of life in general. Only then will we truly see the person behind the disease and begin to connect on a more spiritual level, honouring the Soul of the person living with dementia and those who work with them.
Somehow I think my suggestions will fall mostly on deaf ears. We want to write policies, create standards, police people. I will not give up.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Confusion

We have slumbered into complacency accepting the status quo. We must wake up. Chances are that we – yes YOU – will grow much older than what you thought you would. Imagine…being 85. Try and visualise yourself as an 85 year old. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror – what do you see? Can you actually visualize yourself at that age?
Think of yourself in so many years from now, when you have become more and more of who you are now, all the sharp edges are now sharper, the blunt ones are blurred more than they are now. You are a more difficult version of yourself. Do you like this older version of yourself? Are you gracefully accepting the changes in your body – having to get up three times a night to go to the toilet, being perhaps hard of hearing, maybe have three sets of spectacles (one for tv, one to read, one to find the other two pairs). Perhaps you live alone. Or maybe your current relationship has fizzled out to a droning irritation. Your children annoy you and you avoid your grandchildren at all costs. Worst case scenario!
Maybe it is not the worst case scenario – what if you realised that you have started to be slow of cognition. You really cannot remember important events, names, dates. You have to leave sticky notes everywhere to remind you of your chores, your passwords, your appointments. Sometimes you read the sticky notes and you have no idea why you made the note in the first place. You feel terribly insecure. You lose track of time and become confused in conversations. Your children shout at you when you nod off in conversations, but you find it is your only escape. Sometimes, in the middle of a family gathering, you want to just scream at everyone at the top of your voice to LEAVE YOU THE HELL ALONE. You feel incredibly sad and lonely.
You wake up in the middle of the night knowing that something is wrong. That something is really wrong. You fret and worry about what your children are discussing behind your back. When you wake up in the morning, exhausted, you simply do not have the energy to tackle the day, least of all because you have no idea what day it is.
Confusion is a terrible condition which often presents itself to older people, for many reasons, and is extremely debilitating. People get confused because they have no reason to get up in the morning, no purpose, with one day flowing into the next. Confusion can be as a result of dehydration, or poly-pharmacy. Often people do not take their medication according to the doctor’s prescription (AFTER meals, last thing at night etc) which could result in an impaired homeostasis or iatrogenic disorders (side effects of medications or other well intended medical interventions). Incontinence often appears as another “old age problem” which is seldom discussed – an acute bladder infection or urinary tract infection could lead to transient incontinence, which if not dealt with properly can lead to chronic incontinence. One of the most common signs of this condition is confusion.
A long term depression will lead to confusion. Up to 80% of older people (especially those in long term care) suffer from depression, which will lead to confusion and other so-called “symptoms of dementia”. Too often older people are dismissed as “just being old”, when in fact they are at the mercy of conditions that could easily be solved with a proper geriatric assessment.
Confusion should not be confused with dementia. People living with dementia can often be confused, but not all older people who are confused are living with dementia. We need to distinguish between dementia, depression, delirium and confusion. Dementia is a diagnosis by exclusion – there are a host of conditions that need to be excluded before even thinking that a person might be living with dementia.
Point is – we are all growing older. We will all be at the receiving end of at least some of these issues. The bigger question is – how would YOU like to be treated? What are you investing at this early stage of your life to make sure that you are treated with dignity and respect, that people listen to you, care about you and will care for you? Don’t wait until you are 85. And perhaps if you are not quite ready to look at yourself in the mirror, look around you at older people. Well, sadly most of them are under lock and key in “old age homes” so you might not see many of them…. But try and connect with them. See if that is the way YOU would like to Be when you are old one day.
We need to start raising more and more awareness of how older people are treated in society. If for no other reason than to make sure that by the time WE get there, we will not be locked up in institutions that profess to be there for our protection. Old age is not a crime for which you should be “admitted”. Educate yourself, decide today what your old age will look like. Make the invest to ensure a life worth living!
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

What if….

I wonder what would have happened if we considered dementia to be an “altered state”, reframing it as not a syndrome or an illness, but a different way of being in the world. What if there had never been this obsession with the biomedical rhetoric of brain dysfunction or cognitive impairment? What if people who were forgetting or who saw things that we could not see or who became detached from our way of thinking or looking at time differently were considered not demented, but living in an altered state of consciousness. What if we honoured them as people who were in touch with their higher Self, or in touch with a world beyond the here and now?
First of all I think these people would be living a life not filled with fear and anxieties. They would not be labelled as mad or demented, they would not have what we label as “behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia” nor would they “wander” or “vocalise”. They would be fully integrated in our lives, they would be living in the now, something that most so-called evolved Souls long for and spend lots of time and money in spiritual retreats to try and attain. They would sit among us, we would look up at them, and we would treat them with respect and reverence. If they want to walk, we would walk with them. We would not play childish games with them to cajole them out of their sense of now, nor would we ask them stupid questions to “test” their cognitive ability.
For you see, if we do not frame their altered state as a sickness we would not have to test or assess or screen them, we would simply accept them for who they are, where they are. We will aspire to be like them, we will sit with them to learn from them learners at the feet of wise people. We will not medicate them or tie them to chairs. If we see them as Elders, wise people who are our teachers, they will be exactly that. We will learn patience, forgiveness, and tolerance. We will want to be in their sacred presence.
Is it not time we start to reconsider “dementia”?
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Labels

The new DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) ensures that there is a diagnosis for every possible aspect of human (mis)behaviour. There seems to be a “gold standard” of what would be considered “normal”, and the rest of us are truly certifiable. Or certified.
Whilst it is really good that we have a vocabulary for all the millions of variations of being-in-the-world (introvert, extrovert, non-binary etc etc), we have also created a litany of labels for human behaviours and articulations that makes one wonder who of us is not “sick”…
People living with different abilities (and let’s be mindful of ableism) or people living with dementia are often prime targets of our diagnostic labels. In my opinion, people use these labels to hide their inability to understand or really see the person behind the behaviour. As I have often mentioned, every action is a reaction. When we find ways of expressing ourselves difficult, we react. All of us do – I run away from noise, conflict, uncertainty. I am (extremely) grumpy when I am in pain. I get (extremely) irritated when I am tired. I sulk when I am forced to do things that I do not like doing. Whilst we can be clever about our internal locus of control and mindfulness, we react, as much as we profess that we respond.
People living with dementia are almost always on high alert – except for the millions who are drugged or chemically restrained. Like people who are deaf or blind develop highly attuned other senses, people living with dementia have highly developed and sophisticated sensory perception. Smells, tastes, sounds, and of course feelings are almost always on high alert. And they respond to these in ways that are not always clear to us. Here is where we have to become ethnographers – trying to get to the message behind the behaviour, remembering that a lot of the response comes from a place of feeling insecure.
When things change in the world of someone living with dementia it could elicit a response that does not necessarily correspond directly with the stimulus. It might be that the response comes a lot later once the person has filtered the information. And of course the response may seem to have no correlation with the stimulus. The important message is that the person is trying to tell us something, or at least that they are responding to something that they think or feel.
The minute we label this response, we disconnect the person from their being-in-the-world and run the risk of eroding their agency.l, even more so when we attribute all behaviour to “the dementia” or “they are now at that stage”. Of course this is not an easy or simple course of communication. Sometimes we simply do not know what is happening in the lived world of other people, how much more so when that person’s responses are a riddle to us…
So – what is the upshot? Don’t label (he is paranoid). Don’t try to fix (maybe we should hide these objects). Accept (I see you put the flashlight in the fridge). Validate (I can see that you are upset). Be honest (I don’t know how I can help you right now). Take the blame on yourself (I am confused/scared/uncertain). Affirm (we will figure this out together. For now I need a drink…)

Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 Rayne.Stroebel@mindsmatter.co.za www.mindsmatter.co.za

In(ter)dependence

It is interesting to come to a realisation that one has been wrong about something for a very long time – and then having to reframe one’s thinking. It is uncomfortable, to say the least.
For most of my life working in aged care I have equated quality of life with independence. I firmly believed that it is the defining attribute that all older people should strive for. Not only independence in activities of daily living, but independence from needing other people. I was wrong. The more I explored the lived reality of people in Hangberg, the more I noticed that they did not have this obsession with so-called “successful” ageing, which meant that they can live alone and not need other people. Their being-in-the-world is all about inTERdependence, a connectedness to an ecosystem of family and community. They do not build high walls, children do not move out of their parent’s home as soon as they can. If they do, it is almost a given that the grandchildren will move in with the grandparents. There is a cohesion, as precarious as that might seem. And no “old age homes”.
For many years, if I was asked if I would recommend parents moving in with their children, I would shout a big NO! An absolute NO! There is a possibility that I was wrong. A new field of study looks at socioecology and the importance of community interdependencies. It is within these (often) informal community structures that there is an expression of agency. Whilst we look at the precarious nature of so-called “poorer” communities, we miss one of the most critical elements – agency.
I spoke to grandmothers in the Hangberg community who – if measured by any hegemonic measure – would be considered trapped in a precarious cycle of poverty, living in crowded homes, are illiterate and without much potential for a “better” life. Yet, every single one of them story their elderliness as one of great privilege and immeasurable grace. They see themselves as blessed, because they not only have agency, but a purpose. They hold together a family lineage which rises above the perceived restrictions of their past (Apartheid), their “deficits” (not being able to finish school) and their present circumstances which (again perceived from the outside) might look precarious to say the least. It is within this precarity that a tension is created. And it is this tension that holds together not only the makeshift homes that can withstand the worst of the Cape Southeaster, but also holds together a different being-in-the-world. A community.
Our ageist social norms of older people as passive recipients of care, as being a grey tsunami or a care burden on the world economy is a western social construct that needs serious attention and rethinking. Older people are indeed the most valuable assets to and of communities. They hold the values*, give physical comfort, contribute to social integration, to name but a few of these attributes. This capabilities approach shines a completely different light on ageing and the role of older people in society. To relegate older people to “old age homes” is not only detrimental to the formation of healthy communities, it is shutting down a life force that feeds the growth of society as a whole. Older people do not need our protection – something that I have fought against for many years. They need inclusion. We need to shift our focus towards creating a society where old and young, together, form an interdependent cohesive community. Older people will age differently, we will see less of the “tragic” and more of the “magic” of ageing. And we will learn “to change our minds about people whose minds have changed” (Dr. Allen Power, “Dementia beyond drugs”).
If we can restructure our communities – and COVID-19 might just force us to do this – we might start seeing older people as our teachers of the lessons this world so badly needs: patience, forgiveness, resilience, wisdom and many more attributes that our capitalist society somehow no longer values. Older people can heal our broken world. They will teach us again about genuine human caring and presence.
* “‘It gives you a reason to be in this world’: the interdependency of communities, environments and social justice for quality of life in older people” (Robertson, Gibson, Greasly-Adams, McCall, Gibson, Mason-Duff and Pengelly, 2020).
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Vulnerability

Vulnerability
I have often written about vulnerability in the past. Every year at this time it comes to the surface again. I see how older people battle with the expectations we have of how we think this time of year should be celebrated. Surrounded by children of all ages, braais, late nights and heavy, rich meals. And of course wine and beer and lots of cakes and biscuits with teatime.
I am now 55. Over the past few years I have been acutely aware of how my body has changed. I can no longer eat red meat and drink red wine at night – one of my biggest pleasures in life! As for coffee, since I turned 45 I cannot drink coffee after 18h00 in the evening. Lately, if I drink tea at night, I have to get up and go for a pee up to three times during the night. I have aches and pains where I did not think it was possible to have aches and pains. I gain weight walking past the fridge, and battle for weeks to lose a few kilos.
Thing is, we change as we grow older. Our bodies change, our digestive systems change, our sleeping patterns change. But most of all, our minds change. If – and this is a BIG IF – we really pay attention to our Selves, we will notice the changes on many different levels. As we grow older, we become more aware of our attunement (or not) with the outside world. Our bodies slow down, start rejecting certain foods and practices and habits, for a good reason. We are not supposed to run as fast as a 20 year old, eat as much or look like them. Our entire system starts to change, and unless we accept these changes we will go into a constant battle with our bodies and our Minds.
Very few people seem to be able to gracefully accept the ageing process. Thanks to our brainwashing by the media, we believe that we have to fight ageing with all our power. Botox and tummy tucks, boob jobs and dyeing our hair will keep us “young”, while everything in our bodies are kicking and screaming. I am not saying that we should “let go”, trust me. We need to work harder on staying fit, but we also need to listen to our bodies. We are Divinely guided to another place, another state of being-in-the-world, one of introspection and contemplation. This is the phase in our lives where we grow more than ever, as things are not always easy…
As we grow older, we become slower. We start to worry, we become insecure. After 60 the world thinks we are all stupid and redundant. We take this on board and start beating ourselves up, feeling like we are a nuisance to our loved ones, that we no longer matter. As much as we try to assert ourselves, we simply feel that there is not much point. Yet, I believe that this is the most magical stage of our lives. This is the time to slow down, to look inward, to grow towards a higher state of consciousness. There is a reason for us to slow down, to change our ways, to become more in tune with ourselves and the world around us. We are an intricate part of a mystical ecosystem, we are the expression of Consciousness itself. We can now step out of the rat race and create our own world of creativity and contemplation.
The more we kick against this, the more it will feel as if we are not supposed to be here. Again, the changes that we are experiencing are not easy. It will take hard work to sit back and accept the slowing down. If we are honest with ourselves and really look at ourselves in the mirror every day, it will start happening. Spending time in nature, surrounding yourself with good friends and people who truly love you will bring that acceptance. And then the magic will happen. New neurological pathways will bring new insights, a sense of grateful acceptance, and contentment. Stop fighting. Stop trying to defy Nature. Open your heart and your Mind to the flow of Life. It is perfect just the way it is. If your wonky knees allow you, go and sit in a meadow and look at every little flower and blade of grass. Contemplate the magnificence of it all. Take a pencil and a piece of paper and try to draw these delicate gifts of nature. Photograph them. Be still. This is the best time of our lives.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

Consciousness

For those of you who have missed the conversations with Prof. Felicity Edwards (posted to Facebook), make sure that you listen!
fb.watch/2NR8JJoAJR/ <fb.watch/2NR8JJoAJR/>
fb.watch/2NRdnL4eyR/ <fb.watch/2NRdnL4eyR/>
fb.watch/2NR7Ls6JS1/ <fb.watch/2NR7Ls6JS1/>
Felicity is Emeritus professor of Divinity, Rhodes University.
Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>

This festive season

This “festive” season was certainly not as festive as we usually know it. There seems to be a veil of uncertainty and fear suspended over all our usual frivolity. And as per usual, I got a few telephone calls of panicked children who suddenly realise that their older parents are no longer coping. And the inevitable fear of dementia…
Dementia is very real, and I am not denying the impact that it has on the lives of those living with it or their families. Yet, it must never be our first port of call. A visit to a psychiatrist who administers the Mini Mental State Examination is NOT the route to take. I have written extensively about dementia being a diagnosis by exclusion in previous blogs. I cannot emphasise this enough. Go and read these at my blog. <mindsmatter.co.za/> The COVID-19 reality is that many older people have become extremely isolated, their usual routines of visiting friends and family, playing bridge and socialising disrupted. Social isolation often leads to depression, a lack of motivation to get up, get dressed, and put on the brace face for the world. I have heard of many people telling me that their older relatives’ speech has deteriorated. This happens when people stop socialising…if you don’t use it, you lose it.
We all seem to be suspended in this precarious position of wanting to protect our older parents. In the process, we often do more harm than good. Whilst we might worry about their safety and wellbeing, it never works when we reverse the parent/child role. In fact, it causes chaos and resentment, and often totally out of character behaviour. Our parents are our parents – whether we are 10 or 55. That is their role, and they will never stop playing that role. We can advise, support and suggest, but the minute we take over control we run the risk of completely disempowering them. And we start causing havoc between siblings. Yes we know best – or do we?
Every human being has the desire to be significant. For many older people, this significance often starts fading when they enter the ageist, nebulous world of old age. They simply do not enjoy the status or standing in a world that is so focussed on productivity. Old patterns fuelled by unresolved issues seem to come galloping out of the closet as we age. Our insecurities are magnified and multiply in our sleepless nights. This is when the desperate clawing back to some sense of control is noticed – those really nasty remarks about our drinking/smoking/weight gain or chosen partners that slip out unexpectedly and unguarded. And they hurt like hell. This is often the consequence of feeling vulnerable, wanting to show the world that one can still make and have an impact.
What to do?
Validate: “I can see that this is hard for you. How can we assist you to stay as independent as long as possible?” Make yourself vulnerable: “Mom, this is difficult for me. I have no idea what I have to do to support you.” Reassure: “I am worried about you being alone, but please know that I am always there if you need me.” Build in support systems: Install a call system that is easy to use and linked to a response team, like Telecare Solutions <www.telecaresolutions.co.za/>.
Try and listen like you would listen to one of your clients, and not like you are listening to your Mom/Dad. Often it is much easier to let someone who is not a family member have this conversation, as we get caught in the emotional trap, have our buttons pushed and react instead of respond.
This time of year is notorious for family fights. Everyone is exhausted, and with COVID-19 we have a major existential crisis staring us in the face. We do not have the answers, but we can be kind. Very, very kind. Listen. Reassure. And be more kind.
For help or advice, send me an email at rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> Have a blessed 2021.

Rayne Stroebel MSc (Dementia Studies)
+27 82 455 5300 rayne@mindsmatter.co.za <mailto:rayne@mindsmatter.co.za> www.mindsmatter.co.za <www.mindsmatter.co.za/>