communicating well

communication

Clear, heart-level communication is often difficult to achieve. Just this week, I’ve experienced various critical conversations and coached others through strained and difficult discussions. Those experiences reminded me of more lessons I learned while care-giving for my Dad.

These communication tips helped me to connect more deeply with him, but they are very relevant for conversations with others too. Let me know what you think!

Enter his world

Because of his dementia, my dad sees people and animals that aren’t there, he accuses us of stealing his things, and he fixates incessantly about past responsibilities that are irrelevant today. Instinctively, I want to correct him, defensively deny his accusations, or demand that he stop worrying about things – none of which does any good!

It works better when I listen carefully for the context or the history behind his comments, rather than arguing their validity.

  • When I ask him to tell me more about the people or animals he sees, I get to hear stories of a younger brother who died, good friends he enjoyed, or favorite pets he misses a lot.
  • If I empathize with his frustration over “lost” items instead of denying blame, I gain insight into his priorities, his passions, and his past care for me and our family.
  • When I reply to his sense of responsibility with “That must be important to you. How can I help?”, he can relax in my care instead of struggling to convince me that his work is important and valuable.

I recognize that these same principles work – and more easily(!) – with people who don’t have dementia.

Know the triggers

Care-giving is challenging, exhausting work. In my case, it is especially difficult when my dad’s unkind or angry comments trigger a deeply rooted emotion from my childhood experience. Old insecurities, differing values and opinions, or negative interaction patterns quickly reappear from my youth.

It is important for me to seek self-awareness of those triggers and remember that what may be a valid memory does not have to determine my response today. He is different now… and so am I.

Self awareness of my emotional triggers is key for all my conversations. My reactions are often more about me than about what others have said. As I identify the root cause of my reactions, I can respond with objectivity, grace, and humility instead of vengeance or self-defense.

Watch the “how”

My dad cannot always understand my words, but he definitely comprehends my tone. How I say what I say is often most important. He responds so much better to anything I say if I am calm, gentle, and patient with my speech, and if I eliminate distractions as much as possible. Positive nonverbals communicate also; changing my position to make good eye contact, relaxed facial expression, and even the added touch of a hand on his arm or shoulder make a big difference.

There is nothing profound or new here, but it amazes me how hard it is to apply the right “how” in my everyday conversations with my dad – and with others. I have to intentionally focus on giving my full attention and my best presentation with the content. When I do manage to watch the “how”, our communication improves greatly.

Entering their world, knowing my triggers, and watching “how” I communicate deepens my connections with others.

So, are any of these true for you? How do you communicate well with the people in your life?


(You can read my first post about “life lessons learned from dementia” HERE.)

lecciones de vida aprendidas de la demencia

sunset

Experiencias duras a menudo enseñan las mejores lecciones. El cuidar a mi papá genera recuerdos de la adolescencia y reacciones, temor por el futuro y todo lo peor de mí a veces. El resultado positivo generado es tiempo para reflexionar y aplicar lo que aprendo a otras áreas de mi vida también.

Tengo mucho que aprender, así que aquí están las tres primeras lecciones de mi visita reciente:

Aun cuando no puedo vencer, todavía puedo servir.

Me gustaría nada mejor que curar de mi padre del Parkinson’s y la demencia, pero no puedo. Los medicamentos, terápias, visitas, oraciones – excepto un milagro – no van a restaurar a mi papá. Sin embargo, puedo servirle. El verdadero servicio está determinado por él que está recibiendo el servicio. Mi papá necesita una simplificación en la comunicación y las tareas, y ajustes continuos y creativas a medida que sus habilidades cambian. También necesita mi paciencia cuando él prefiere hacer algo (¡muy lentamente!) por si mismo y mi respeto, incluso cuando él está confundido u olvidadizo. Las dos últimas necesidades son mucho más difíciles para mí.

Además de la enfermedad de mi padre, hay muchas cosas que me gustaría cambiar en este mundo: la paz en lugar de la violencia, el fin de las iniquidades y las desigualdades, las injusticias reconciliadas, la sanación por los dolores, la desesperación encontrando la esperanza. No puedo hacer que estas cosas pasen… pero puedo servir. Yo puedo ir a donde me necesiten, dar mi mejor esfuerzo en todo lo que hago y pensar primero en los demás antes que a mí mismo – un día a la vez. Puedo considerar como ayudar mejor a otros en lugar de lo que quiero hacer o lo que es más fácil para mí que ofrecer.

Yo no necesito tener la razón.

Aprendí rápidamente que no puedo ganar una discusión con una persona que sufre de la demencia. Para la persona con demencia, su percepción es la única cosa que es cierto. Los delirios, la paranoia y la negación de mi papá son su realidad. No puedo razonar, argumentar, convencer, o ganarle a mi punto de vista. Sólo le puedo ayudar con lo que él cree.

Eso sucede a menudo con otras personas también. Incluso cuando vemos un escenario pasar en frente de nosotros, las personalidades individuales, las experiencias pasadas y los valores nos dan diferentes perspectivas de ese incidente. Puedo discutir, persuadir o presionar durante horas, pero nunca voy a ser la única que tiene la razón. Estoy aprendiendo – lentamente – que no siempre tengo que estar en lo cierto. A menudo mi verdad no es la única verdad de una situación. Sólo puedo ayudar a la gente si me importa y trabajo con lo que la gente cree.

La actitud es de gran poder.

Pensarías que esta lección ya yo hubiera entendido. No puedo cambiar la actitud de mi padre, pero puedo cambiar la mía. Puedo mirar a su enfermedad como un vaso medio vacío y me centro en todo lo que ha perdido y quién era él, o yo puedo ver el vaso medio lleno y concentrarme en lo que todavía podemos disfrutar juntos – caminadas por el vecindario, descansas tranquilas en un banquito del parque, la alegría de ver unos conejitos en el pasto, una puesta de sol de Nuevo México rayando el cielo. Mi papá puede sentir mi actitud y él reacciona en consecuencia.

Él no es el único afectado por mi selección de actitud. Mi familia, los amigos y los compañeros de trabajo también reaccionan a mi medio-vacía o medio-llena actitud. Mis acciones pueden ser buenas, pero mi actitud tiene la influencia más poderosa sobre su respuesta.

Estas son las tres lecciones en las que estoy trabajando esta semana. Voy a compartir otras en las próximas semanas, pero esto es suficiente para mí por ahora!

¿Y tú … ¿cuál de estas tres lecciones es más difícil para ti?

¿Qué has aprendido acerca de servir a los demás, preocuparte por lo que creen, o la elección de la actitud correcta?

 

life lessons learned from dementia

sunsetHard experiences often teach the best lessons. Helping care for my elderly dad triggers childhood memories and reactions, fears for the future, and all the worst of me at times. The positive result is time to reflect and apply what I learn to other areas of my life. I have a lot to learn(!), so here are my first three lessons from my recent visit:

Even when I can’t “fix” it, I can still serve.

I would like nothing better than to cure my dad’s Parkinson’s and dementia, but I can’t. Medications, therapy, visits, prayers – other than a miracle – will not “fix” my dad. However, I can serve him. True service is determined by the one being served. He needs simplification in language and task, and continual and creative adjustments as his abilities change. He also needs my patience when he would prefer to do something (slowly!) himself and my respect even when he is confused or forgetful. Those last two are much harder for me.

Besides my dad’s illness, there are many things I’d like to change in this world: peace in place of violence, an end to inequities and inequalities, reconciled injustices, healing for hurts, desperation to encounter hope. I can’t fix those things either… but I can serve. I can go where I am called, give my best in all I do, and think of others rather than myself first – one day at a time. I can consider what will best assist others rather than what I want to do or what is easiest for me to offer.

I don’t have to be right.

I learned quickly that I cannot win an argument with a dementia sufferer. To the person with dementia, his perception is the only thing that is true. My dad’s delusions, paranoia, and denial are his reality. I cannot reason, argue, convince, or win him over to my perspective. I can only help him with what he believes.

That is often true with other people also. Even if we see the same scenario play out in front of us, our individual personalities, backgrounds, and values give us different perspectives of that incident. I can discuss, persuade, or pressure for hours, but I will never be the one who is right. I am learning – slowly – that I don’t always need to be right. My truth is often not the one truth in a situation. I can only help people if I care about and work with what they believe.

Attitude is powerful.

You would think I would know this one by now. I cannot change my father’s attitude, but I can change mine. I can look at his disease as a glass half empty and focus on all he has lost and who he was, or I can view the glass as half full and concentrate on what we can still enjoy together – neighborhood walks, quiet rests on a park bench, joy at watching fat rabbits in the yard, a New Mexico sunset streaked across the sky. He can sense my attitude, and he reacts accordingly.

He is not the only one affected by my choice of attitude. My family, friends, and co-workers also react to my half-empty or half-full mood. My actions may be good, but my attitude has the most powerful influence on his response.

These are the three lessons I am working on this week. I will share others in the weeks ahead, but this is enough for me for now!

How about you… which of these three is hardest for you?

What have you learned about serving others, caring about what they believe, or choosing the right attitude? 

esperar no es nada fácil

3 oclock

La alarma sonó a las 3:00 AM, solamente algunas pocas horas después de que mi cabeza acostó en la almohada. A regañadientes, me obligué despiertar y alistarme para alcanzar el vuelo de las 6:00 AM. Al menos, el esfuerzo y el dolor de esta hora temprana significaba que íbamos a llegar a Albuquerque a las 10:30 AM y disfrutar de un día completo con mi hermana y mi papá.

La salida a Houston fue sin complicaciones. Incluso nos dieron clase primera para ese primer vuelo. Estábamos a punto de llegar a tiempo cuando la torre negó nuestro aterrizaje debido a la niebla en la zona. El piloto primero comunicó que tendríamos que círcularnos por encima del aeropuerto y esperar el permiso para aterrizar. Quince minutos más tarde, el piloto nos informó que no teníamos suficiente combustible para esperar más y tendríamos que aterrizar en otro aeropuerto cercano.

Ese desvío costó aproximadamente 60 minutos en el aire de ida y vuelta y otros 40 minutos en el terreno lllenando el avión de combustible. Nuestro vuelo de conexión se había ido para entonces. Bueno, pensamos, podríamos esperar que la línea aérea nos reserve un lugar para en el próximo vuelo.

Cuando la opción automática de re-booking apareció por mi teléfono, llegaríamos en Albuquerque … a las 11:00 PM (!) con un desvío a través de Denver. UGH! Básicamente todo el día perdido, esperando, sentados en los aeropuertos. No es mi idea de diversión.

Detuvimos en una mesa de servicio para buscar una mejor opción y les pedí a algunas amigas a orar para que pudíeramos encontrar un vuelo más temprano. Los textos intercambiados entre mis amigas me hicieron reír y alumbraron mi estado de ánimo. Además, ellas me ofrecieron sugerencias para aprovechar del tiempo de espera:

  • Descansar y relajarse
  • Tomar un café en el Starbucks 🙂
  • Comer algo
  • Escribir un post para el blog acerca de esperar!

También caminamos, fuimos de compras, leímos y disfrutamos de “Face-Time” con nuestros hijos. Finalmente, encontramos una 8:00 PM llegada. Con todo, el día fue largo, pero estábamos seguros y no mucho cambío como resultado. No nos requiró mucho esfuerzo llenar el tiempo y nos ayudó que no estuvimos enojados ni irritados con las personas o las circunstancias.

Recordé – una vez más – las interrupciones y los retrasos son una parte inevitable de la vida. Esperamos por las relaciones, los empleos, las curas de las enfermedades, que vuelvan los hijos pródigos a casa y que nuestra lista de sueños se haga realidad. No puedo controlar todas estas cosas, pero sí puedo controlar mi actitud mientras espero.

¿Cómo manejas las interrupciones y los retrasos de tu vida?


 

Photo credit: amyvdh / Foter / CC BY-NC

wait is a four letter word

3 oclockThe alarm went off at 3:00 AM, only a few hours after my head hit the pillow. Begrudgingly, I forced myself awake and moving to catch the 6:00 AM flight. At least the effort and pain of this early hour meant we would arrive to Albuquerque by 10:30 AM and enjoy a full day with my sister and my dad.

The departure to Houston was uneventful. We even received upgrades for that first flight, and we were about to arrive on time when the tower denied our landing because of fog in the area. The pilot first communicated that we would circle above the airport and wait for permission to land. Fifteen minutes later, the pilot informed us that we did not have enough fuel to wait any longer, and we would have to land at a nearby airport.

That detour cost approximately 60 minutes in the air there and back and another 40 minutes on the ground for re-fueling. Our connecting flight was long gone by then. Oh well, we thought, we could just wait for the airline to re-book us on the next flight.

When the automatic re-booking option came through on my phone, we would be arriving in Albuquerque… at 11:00 PM(!) with a detour through Denver. UGH! Basically the whole day lost, WAITING, sitting around in airports. Not my idea of fun.

We stopped at a service desk to check for better options, and I asked some friends to pray that we might find an earlier flight. The texts back and forth from my friends made me laugh and lightened the mood. In addition, they offered suggestions for using the waiting time:

  • Rest and relax
  • Stop at Starbucks 🙂
  • Eat something
  • Write a blog post on waiting!

We also walked, shopped, read, and enjoyed some “Face-Time” with our children. We eventually found an 8:00 PM arrival. All in all, the day was long, but we were safe and not much changed as a result. It did not take much effort to fill the time, and it helped to not get angry or irritated with people or circumstances along the way.

I remembered – once again – interruptions and delays are an inevitable part of life. We wait for relationships, jobs, disease cures, prodigal children to come home, and bucket-list dreams to come true. I can’t control them, but I can control my attitude as I wait.

How do you handle interruptions and delays in your life?


 

Photo credit: amyvdh / Foter / CC BY-NC

discover and develop your strengths

coreclaritybannerI have a new passion. No doubt about it. I love coaching people through discovery of their talents and strengths. Absolutely love it.

Successful people
understand
their talents and strengths
and build their lives upon them.

My husband and I attended a CoreClarity training last spring. That week prepared us to explain Gallup StrengthsFinder results for individuals and groups. This summer, we had numerous opportunities to coach family members, individuals, and couples.

Every time we talked through top talents with people, I watched eyes open wide in recognition, hearts soften with greater understanding, burdens of frustration and self-condemnation wash away, and hope reappear in the soul. 

It was amazing actually.

It is an encouraging experience to grow in self-awareness and self-acceptance, but it is even more powerful to grow in understanding and appreciating the important people in our lives. 

Successful marriages (or teams)
dont just accommodate differences in each other,
they capitalize on them.

If you have never done the StrengthsFinder assessment, I highly recommend it. There are specific assessments you can choose for adults, college and highschool students and even middle school students. After you receive your top five results, find someone trained in CoreClarity to review your results with you. You can do this for yourself, as a couple, for your family, or in a seminar format for your whole team.

You will learn :

  • why it is more important to develop your strengths, rather than focus on improving your weaknesses
  • how to develop your talents into strengths
  • to correct the myths that everyone thinks the same way we do or that everyone has the same talents we do plus what we see in them that we do not have
  • how your top talents affect each other and how your combination creates the unique you
  • how different talents intensify, combine, or collide with other talents
  • how talents understanding helps build and repair relationships, improves problem solving and teamwork
  • how to use your talents to enhance your career

You might also want to attend a facilitator training so you can coach others!

Do you already know your top talents? How have you applied that knowledge to your life and relationships?

Please leave me a comment if you have any questions about CoreClarity or StrengthsFinder. I’ll be glad to help in any way that I can!

who will he be today?

Old Man 14037671409_bbb2f90095_cOne day he seems almost normal – making jokes, telling stories, expressing gratitude, communicating lucidly.

The next day he feeds animals that don’t exist; is irrationally paranoid and fearful, freezes in the middle of thoughts and sentences, and cannot remember how to accomplish basic life tasks, how old he is, or even his daughters’ names.

I do not know which father I will greet each morning.

That is dementia.

I have decided it reminds me of living with a teenager – one moment “almost” mature and grown up: making wise decisions, communicating with confidence and respect, interacting as an adult peer. The next moment acting like a child again: thoughtless of action consequences, emotional or surly, insecure and overly dependent. A roller coaster of crisis and climax.

That is dementia.

I am learning again how to help. Stay calm and do not escalate the situation by attempting to reason or argue. Use a quiet, clear, slow voice, respect, and a gentle touch. Do not let his response trigger my past father/daughter issues; do not react defensively, with anger, or with impatience. Do not surprise him with a change of plans or expect him to learn something new or hope for consistency from day-to-day.

I long for a standardized to-do list that I can follow faithfully each day. A defined cause and effect that I can rely on. A “2 + 2 = 4” dependability.

Dementia does not offer that.

Instead I need to face each day with grace, flexibility, prayer, and love-motivated sacrifice of my wishes and desires.

Unlike rasing a teenage, there is no chance that this situation will improve, that he will grow out of this stage, that he will get better. I can only anticipate more of the same or something worse. He is not making progress; he is declining towards the end.

That is dementia.

Who will I greet in the morning? An elderly man. A child of God. A test of my character. My father.

How do you face the challenges in your life that will not get any easier? 

_____

**If you are a person of prayer, please pray for my father and my family… wisdom for future decisions, strength for daily choices of love and sacrifice. Thank you.

“Ok, my dear. Thank you.”

terry and dadMy dad has never before called me “dear”.

That word brought tears to my eyes. Such a little thing, and yet a such big emotional impact.

We are spending a few weeks living with my dad – helping him with daily care, giving my sister a few moments of respite from her herculean job of care giving.

I was initially nervous about staying here with him. I was not sure about his abilities to function and interact. I worried that he might not want my help or that I would not know what to do. I haven’t lived close to my elderly grandparents or parents, so am not very comfortable with their lifestyle and needs.

My dad suffers from Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and alcoholism. My dad who was always the extreme self-made-man, strong character and body, intelligent, and absent of affection has become a very dependent, weak, forgetful… sweet and appreciative old man.

He certainly has his moments of confusion, frustration, and stubbornness, but in general, he is not the rough, tough, intimidating father he was before.

Caring for my dad is not easy. It requires patience, flexibility, research, and a lot of new perspective. It means different standards, norms, and routines that would have been unheard of in earlier years. Lucid conversations mixed with confused anxiety. Time, worry, initiative, firmness, creativity, and continual second-guessing and questioning decisions and choices.

Dad’s care is the epitome of living with tension – giving respect and still enforcing new restrictions, allowing for independence and restricting freedoms, offering choices while simplifying options, providing quality of life and ensuring safety, protecting privacy and dignity while also hovering with care.

I do not have any official training for the role of elder care-giver, but care giving is training me. I am learning to slow down… lowering my accomplishment expectations for each day, choosing my words carefully and enunciating as I speak, walking protectively at his side, moving with tenderness and intentionality. None of that is easy for me.

The most important lessons are a repeat of earlier experiences – living fully with the realities of each life-stage and finding contentment there. Just as I learned to overcome fears, serve others, and treasure special moments with infants, toddlers, teenagers, and adult children, I can do the same with my dad.

Every person is important. Every life is valuable. I consider it a privilege and a joy to care for him. I am willing to help my dad without expectation of getting anything in return, but every now and then, I receive a special gift – a “thank you” or a “dear” – from a special person who has nothing more to offer. It is enough.

What has been your experience is caring for elderly loved ones? Do you have any tips for me?

how to reach Mars

IMGP9160In all of history, only 12 people have walked on the moon. A lifetime of study and preparation, many years of training and practice, teamwork, and the perfect performance of gazillions of rocket components and wires had to synchronize exactly to make those outer-space steps possible. It was inspiring and challenging to hear about the missions and visit the Kennedy Space Center with my team. Many of the principles that enabled those amazing accomplishments are also relevant to the big goals we attempt today.

Which of the following can you apply to your next challenge?

DREAM THE DREAM

No one had ever put a man on the moon before, but dreamers believed it could be done. They envisioned it, and then they figured out how to make it happen. Today, we must do the same – look ahead, see the future, consider the possibilities. Lane Arbuthnot, an engineer for the Apollo 11 flight, encouraged us to imagine ourselves five years into the future: What is your dream? What do you envision for your life/family/work/mission? How do you want the future to look? and then ask “What will we need in order to reach the goal?” IMGP9162

SACRIFICE

Astronauts gave their lives in pursuit of the mission. We may or may not have to pay the ultimate price, but a great dream will cost us something. I am asking myself these questions: What are you willing to give up? What are you willing to risk? Financial security? Reputation or ridicule? Comfort or convenience? Time? IMGP9169

FOCUS

When we visited the Launch Control Center, it was interesting to observe that all the work stations faced away from the huge windows with a view of the rocket and launch pad. Each person’s concentration and attention were vital for the success of the mission – they were not mere spectators. Are there things in your life you need to re-arrange in order to better concentrate on your dreams and goals?IMGP9197

OPEN COMMUNICATION

In the Launch Control Center, the “Public Affairs Officer” desk sat right next to the “Launch Director”. That openness provided honest communication of launch attempts – successes and failures. Today information and truth is powerful and necessary for alignment and accountability. I know that I often underestimate the need to communicate vision, expectations, feedback, and gratitude. How about you? What could you communicate more often or more clearly?public affairs desk

PEOPLE VALUE AND PRIORITY

Although the rockets and spaceships are definitely impressive, the tour guides consistently emphasized how important the people were to the mission. Over 400,000 worked together on the Apollo 11 flight! Human Resources played a crucial role on the leadership team; hiring, developing, and even firing when necessary…ensuring that all collaborated well. Every person counts when accomplishing an incredible mission! How are the relationships on your team or in your family? Do they know they are uniquely important? Is each person maximizing their strengths?

For NASA, the next goal is Mars! Many people working together will apply these principles to make that dream come true. What is your dream? What will it require?

What was it I needed to do?

Photo credit: pni / Source / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: pni / Source / CC BY-NC-SA

Have you ever gone into a room and forgotten what you went in there to find? Ever forget someone’s name? Ever spend time looking for something because you couldn’t remember where you put it?

These are normal events for most people. At my age, however, they are becoming more worrisome. Some days I worry about losing my memory.

My dad has Parkinson’s and dementia and it saddens me to watch him struggle. I am reading books about dementia and memory loss diseases to learn how to help him, support those who do his care-giving, and understand some of his challenges.

I am also learning how to prevent or at least diminish the potential for my own memory loss. This past week, I read a great biography about a daughter caring for her dementia-affected mom: Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir. Besides communicating honesty, empathy and encouragement, the author, Martha Stettinius, offers great appendices of resources – one contains suggested antidotes for dementia.

This is a summary of what she writes:

Exercise

Studies show that thirty minutes of daily physical activity (housework, walking, weight training, etc) may be our strongest weapon against Alzheimer’s and other memory loss diseases. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates growth of new brain cells.

Mental Stimulation

Add social community and mental stimulation to exercise and you have a great combination. Work, join a club, volunteer, travel, play games – especially crosswords or puzzles, learn to speak another language or play an instrument. Do these things in relationship with others and your brain continues to make connections too.

Eat Right

Nothing new here right? A good diet helps with a lot of things! Eating dark veggies and fruits, cold water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) and nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts) also decreases the risk for memory loss. Vitamins E, C, and B12 may also help. Cut back on sugars and carbs wherever you can.

In addition, Stettinius suggests that you get checked if you have vision problems, sleep apnea or an infection that damages neurons. Researchers consider each of these as possible catalysts for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This all seems pretty basic and these are health tips I have heard before. I am just a bit more motivated to take them seriously each time I hear about someone else caring for a loved one who suffers memory loss… and that is often. There are 35.6 million people with dementia worldwide today and analysts expect that amount to almost double by 2030 to around 66 million and double again by 2050 to approximately 115 million.

I am going to do what I can so that I do not add to that number.

How about you? Do you need to change some habits? Or did I already ask you that?