Alzheimer's blog

Mindfulness key component in compassion for self, others

By Angela Lunde October 16, 2012

The responses to my last blog posting were validating, insightful and inspiring. I'm so grateful that we have this venue to recharge with one another and offer much needed support and perspective in both caring for someone with dementia and being a person living with dementia.

I sincerely hope Craig's words from a posting he made a couple of weeks ago resonate with each of you. Craig is a terrific man I know, and as he shared in his posting, he's living with Lewy body dementia. Here is some of what he wrote:

"I still have abilities. I still have contributions. I still have opinions. I still have regrets — mostly that I am written off, and the system gives everyone permission to do so. I still enjoy doing fun things. I still enjoy ... most anything ... I know that I am a burden, but help me stay as little a burden as possible for the longest time possible. That's right, Address ME ..."

Also, I want to echo and shout out what Wendy recently offered when she said that this vital cultural shift must be about a "quest for compassion." I'm with you Wendy — embracing persons living with dementia as a society and within communities remains our ardent quest. We must act with compassion.

For most of us, we probably think of compassion as a virtuous way of expressing care, concern or empathy toward the suffering of another individual. Yet, I'd also like us all to think for a bit about compassion toward one's self. Because the truth is, until we have self-compassion we won't be able to bring it to others.

Kristin Neff, Ph.D., in her book titled "Self Compassion" (2011), says that self-compassion involves three core components:

  • It requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. I believe that both caregivers and persons living with dementia tend to be very hard on themselves. Often they think that they aren't good enough, not worthy, or feel that they are not living up to some perceived expectations. They may believe they are a burden, feel inadequate, or sense that society makes them feel so.
  • Self-compassion requires that we feel connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated from others and by our suffering. To some degree, this is where family, friends, support groups, specialized programs and perhaps even this blog or newsletter can help. But as Craig and so many others recognize, we have a long way to go to eliminate the isolation and alienation that many caregivers and persons living with dementia experience.
  • Self-compassion requires mindfulness. I think of mindfulness as the act of being fully aware of our actions, our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, as well as our interactions in each moment. Mindfulness is about identifying all feelings in a way where they are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.

A number of studies suggest that when you bring feelings into awareness and describe or name them you diffuse the negative energy that accompanies them. In other words, mindfulness can help us live with less emotional reactivity and turbulence and move toward calm, perhaps even more happiness.

In a recent Huffington Post article titled "How to Best Help Alzheimer's Caregivers — Teach Them Mindfulness," author Marguerite Manteau-Rao describes mindfulness as "the cultivation of intentional moment-to-moment awareness, without judgment ... mindfulness slows us down and takes some of the edge off our reactive tendencies." I'd say this includes being aware of our natural tendency to view a person with dementia as less competent or a lesser person.

Mindfulness brings with it the ability to see the person living with dementia as a whole being. When this occurs, the relationship between the caregiver and the person living with dementia can transform into one of reciprocity. And then, an incredible shift happens. Instead of an encounter where there is a caregiver and a care receiver, there is simply a caring relationship. An interconnectedness takes place between two people and compassion is born.

More about the practice of mindfulness next time.

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
- Dalai Lama

Oct. 16, 2012