Archive for July 2014

How Can Body Language Help Caregivers?

Picture a person who is feeling defeated.  How do they look?  What is their posture?

Chances are you imagined a person who was sort of “curled up,” with their shoulders bent and head down.  Maybe they even hold their arms crossed in front of them.

This is a very natural pose to take when we’re being attacked; it serves to protect our vital organs, and keeping our head down can protect our face and throat.

Now picture someone who is very strong and self-confident.  What do you see?

Are they standing tall, feet firmly planted?  Are their hands on their hips?  (Think Superman or Wonder Woman here).

Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy became very interested in body language and the ways people seem to express feeling powerful or powerless.  What she learned can help you with your caregiving.

Dr. Cuddy noticed that in nature, when an animal feels threatened, or even wants to intimidate another animal who’s too close to their home territory, they make themselves appear larger.  A fish might puff itself up to appear larger, a bird will spread its wings and get up on tip-toe, and a mammal tends to “ruff” the fur around its neck and may rear up to seem more capable of defending itself.

Conversely, many animals will make themselves small by curling up into a ball or trying to climb into a tiny space for safety.

In her lab, Dr. Cuddy learned that when humans “make themselves big” for as little as 2 minutes, their stress hormone, cortisol, gets lower.  Their testosterone, a hormone that can makes us strong and focused, was raised.  This brief change in posture altered how the brain and body responded, allowing the person to feel more calm and courageous.

People who assumed the smaller posture had hormonal changes, too, but in the opposite direction.  Those folks experienced an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and a decrease in testosterone.

Who is better prepared to deal with a problem, succeed in an interview, or stay calm in a time of trouble?

Dr. Cuddy advises that taking on a big posture, spreading our feet and arms, for 2 minutes before an important conversation can make us think more clearly and feel calm and more self-assured.

Notice your own posture at different times throughout the day.  When you notice yourself curling up, make an effort to spread out for a few minutes.  Even putting your feet up on a desk, leaning back, and putting your hands behind your head (with elbows out), is a way to make yourself appear larger that Dr. Cuddy calls “the CEO position.”

Is there a part of caregiving that “beats you up” or makes you feel powerless?  Try “being big” for a few minutes, and let us know through the comment board what you discover!

You can learn more about Dr. Cuddy’s research by watching her TedX talk at: http://youtu.be/Ks-_Mh1QhMc

 

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Lisa Kendall is a social worker and clinical gerontologist with a private therapy and consulting practice.  Specializing in aging and Elder care, trauma recovery, and bereavement, Lisa also teaches at the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute and is an Educator for The Eden Alternative™.

Accept the Gift

TrellisI don’t feel good today.  I’ve had a cold, and it’s getting old.  I’m into the coughing stage, and it gives me a headache.

On a day when I don’t see clients and there is nothing that HAS to get done other than a brief (and welcomed) meeting with some of my colleagues from The Eden Alternative™, you would think I could be grateful for the time to rest and recuperate.

Not me!  Like a dope I held onto the belief that I “should” be working, not resting.  This nagging guilt kept me at my computer, but the lingering cold prevented me from doing anything creative or constructive.

The result was that I didn’t get anything done, AND I didn’t rest, which was clearly what my body wanted, craved, and needed.

I’ve been trying to be better about this, but today I backslid big time.  I didn’t even realize it until I finally came outside to an unseasonably comfortable July day.  As I settled into an Adirondack chair, I could hear a whisper on the breeze, mingling with the gentle sound of my windchimes.

“Accept the gift.”

Accept the gift!

Accept rest.  Accept peace.  Accept the gift of a no-stress day to allow rejuvenation and renewal.

I might have let the day go, but I will embrace this cool summer evening. I will listen to the birds, watch the bunnies, and feel the breeze against my skin.  I will let my body relax and heal.

I will accept the gift.

 

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Lisa Kendall is a social work psychotherapist and clinical gerontologist who needs a nap more than she needs to go on about her work right now.  Thanks for reading, and if you’ve gotten this far, please feel free to share what you’re doing on this summer day to “accept the gift!”

 

 

Widening Circles of Support for Elders and their Care Partners

 

The rural community where my Mother grew up is saturated with extended family, and has been for several generations.  As a family history buff, I enjoy looking at the old Federal census forms and seeing the names of ancestors filling pages, neighbors living in houses strung along a country road or tucked into the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania.

The big farmhouses of those times had a “sick room” off the kitchen, where an ill loved one could be looked after, close to the family’s heart and hearth.  With cousins, nieces and nephews, and sons and daughters all in the area, there was help to be had if and when it was needed.

Even so, it’s interesting to see that some Elders of very advanced years lived with unrelated folks as a “boarder.”

4fafe553-6123-4719-b6f9-00fdc24e92f1Nowadays our culture continues to see the “best” option for care of our Elders as that which is provided in their own homes, or living with close relatives.  Moving someone into a nursing home is seen by many as a personal and family failure.

This has always bothered me.  While we have a long way to go to change the institutional model of long term care, I do not agree that this represents failure.

I’ve seen many Elders blossom in nursing homes and assisted living.

One beautiful woman I knew came to live in the nursing home because arthritis had crippled her hands badly and left her unable to get around without a wheelchair.  Once she moved into the nursing home where I worked, she was able to explore her lifelong dream to be a painter.  The Activities staff provided her with supplies and a place to work, and she figured out a way to hold a brush in her gnarled fingers.  The art she made was glorious! (And she felt very happy to have finally liberated her inner artist!).

I’ve also known many Elders in their own or a family member’s home who nevertheless suffered from the three plagues of Loneliness, Helpless and Boredom, as defined by Dr. Bill Thomas and The Eden Alternative ™.

These families are likely to feel guilty when they “have to” place their loved one.

We’ve seen much change in recent years, with families moving far from the family home, medical technology extending life (but not necessarily well-being), and two-earner couples.  It’s no wonder family care partners feel overwhelmed!

I won’t rehash the demographics and statistics we all know so well, but I’d like to offer some thoughts from my years of experience working in long term care.

Don’t let “caretaking” overwhelm your relationship with the Elder.  There are lots of people who can mop the floors, wash the linens, assist with bathing, and help an Elder living with frailty get to the bathroom. No one can have the special family bond with the Elder that you do. You can look at family photos and reminisce about the milestone events and precious small moments that comprise your family’s unique culture and history.

If you are a spouse or partner, your loving presence is irreplaceable.

If you’re so overcome with the tasks of caring, to the point that the relationship is suffering, please reconsider. Build a care partner team for your Elder and for yourself that will honor your loved one’s preferences and still ensure their daily needs are met in a loving and respectful way.

Consider that the local nursing home is where our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, are now working.  Let them help with the care.  You’ll find that some of these strangers will come to love your Elder and develop their own distinctive relationships with them.

You’ll also find that those young, strong backs can take on what feels burdensome, leaving you with the energy and resources to be present for your Elder in the way that only you can be.

 

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Lisa Kendall is a social work psychotherapist and clinical gerontologist, and amateur genealogist!

Please let us know your thoughts about Aging and Elderhood, and share your stories of how you’ve been able to widen the circles of support for your loved one and for yourself!

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