How to have “logical” conversations and fun with your cognitively-impaired parent PART 2
One of the truest test of our maturity is how we treat the elderly, especially how we interact with our parents in their later years. For some, our parents are among the 15–20% of adults over 65 who show symptoms of noticeable impairment of memory and/or thinking ability (MCI – mild cognitive impairment). Our relating to and caring for them can become a challenge, especially when they become emotionally fragile (e.g., easily confused, quickly irritated and stubborn).
In part 1 (Kauai Family Magazine, Fall 2017), I talked about the emotional and thinking mind. The emotional mind includes 95% of what goes on in our brain without us being aware. It is the seat of our emotions and memory, emerging from our temperament (hereditary) and life experiences. The thinking mind (5%) is the center of our (logical) thinking, planning and awareness (of what’s around us). The key to engaging well with our parents – accept that who they are isn’t the same as who they were (especially if there is dementia, a more serious form of MCI).
So, it follows that if the thinking mind is significantly compromised (by MCI or dementia) then the emotional mind takes a more prominent and active role. However, the emotional mind operates by a different “logic”, one that’s governed mostly by feelings and experiences and not logical thinking.
In other words, when talking to your parents, especially if it’s to get them to do something they need to do, mood matters! Yours and theirs. Begging, pleading, scolding, making them feel guilty, and/or telling them they’ll get sicker (or worse) works . . . sometimes, but at what cost and for how long?
Here’s my keys on how to have more “enjoyable” interactions. Keep this uppermost in mind – Mood is everything! When they’re (and we’re) in the mood, there’s less headaches.
Check your emotions before you engage with your parents. If you’re not calm, any resistance by them will cause your sweet voice to sour quickly.
Anger and fear closes up our heart and mind. Much love opens them up again.
(Fr. Richard Rohr)
Observe their emotions. If they’re not calm they’ll get resistant quickly.
Check your tone, adjust accordingly. For those of us who don’t have a naturally calming voice, we can at least work on speaking slower. Ask a friend to help you work on a “Frank Sinatra” voice (Ok he’s before my time too!). At least you can record yourself (on your smartphone) and listen to see if you’d comply with yourself.
Create a calming environment prior to engaging with them, soothing music works wonders to change mood.
Before asking them to doing something, engage them in a happy memory, get them to laugh or smile.
Dr. Hale Akamine, is the executive director of Family Ministries Center and a licensed clinical psychologist for over 25 years.