Alzheimer's blog

HABIT helps people find courage in facing dementia

By Angela Lunde May 29, 2013

For those of you who are regulars to the blog, you know I often reflect on a special Mayo Clinic program called HABIT.

Healthy Action to Benefit Independence and Thinking (HABIT) is a 2-week program for persons impacted by mild cognitive impairment or early stage dementia and their support partner.

A few days ago I completed another HABIT program with 26 participants-persons living with cognitive impairment, spouses, partners and adult children.

This comprehensive, holistic intervention program involves daily memory compensation training, brain fitness, supportive small group therapy, yoga and mindfulness, along with wellness conversations and action planning.

It's more common than not during the first couple of days in the HABIT program to see and feel tension, uncertainty, and uneasiness in those attending. This makes sense; it must take a great amount of courage to show up, gather with a group of strangers and focus on something that stirs up so much fear. And at the same time, it takes sufficient courage to be faced with the risk of allowing our true selves, weaknesses and all, to be seen.

The special thing that participants soon discover is that HABIT is a place where imperfection, fear and sadness are not only allowed; they are embraced and welcomed with compassion.

We feel connection and belonging when we are around others who share in our experiences, our imperfections and our struggles. In this way, we are connecting on the deepest levels that call to us as human beings. And with this connection comes the courage to be who we are, and to believe that who we are — memory loss or not — is more than enough.

Conversely, when we are attempting to hide our flaws we are actually disconnecting from the very connection we need and long for.

Author and researcher Brene Brown in her book "The Gifts of Imperfection" states that owning our story can be difficult but not nearly as difficult as running from it and that embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging. She says that only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover infinite power of our light.

My sincerest gratitude to all the courageous and loveable individuals I was fortunate to spend these past weeks with. From Brown's Book: "We have to be brave with our life so others can be brave with theirs."

May 29, 2013