Mindfulness and Greater Ease in Providing Dementia Care
For a dementia care partner, mindfulness practice can be empowering in a number of ways:
Bringing a calm, centered presence
With regular mindfulness practice, we naturally find a more calm and centered presence, including during care exchanges. This sense of calm awareness is one of the greatest gifts we can bring to ourselves as well as to the person in our care.
Not being limited by expectations or wishes
When we become dementia care partners, we are joining a club we didn’t ask to join. Much of our stress comes when we struggle to accept that this is how life is right now — when we get lost in wanting a different life than we have or hating the life we are living. Mindfulness teaches us to stay in the present moment and reduces the time spent wishing for the past or worrying about a future we can’t accurately predict. As we practice, we will find ourselves less likely to dwell in stressful mind states, and more open to what each new moment brings.
“Being” vs. task-only driven
Many dementia-related behavioral symptoms arise when we rush to perform a task with the person without first checking in and connecting in the moment. Mindfulness helps us shift from a task-driven mode to the state of “being present” with the other person and with ourselves. This results in a more sustained feeling of connectedness, even in the midst of challenges.
Responding, not reacting
In the heat of a difficult care exchange, we run the risk of reacting and making matters worse. Mindfulness practice trains us to naturally take the time to pause before moving toward a response. This way we are more likely to de-escalate and transform interactions for the better.
Being aware of the person
With so much happening on any given day, we may miss new cues about the person’s mental and physical state in the moment. This is especially important whenever verbal communication is affected. With mindfulness, you will be more likely to notice body language and other nonverbal signals.
Being aware of the environment
Mindfulness practice leads us to be more aware of our environment, which also happens to be the environment for the person with dementia. We will enhance sensory awareness to better anticipate environmental stressors and to make appropriate changes in the person’s environment.
Being fully attuned
Mindfulness practice helps us become more comfortable with moving beyond our habitual modes of thinking and talking. We learn creative ways of connecting, staying attuned, and being present with the other person. These skills are even more helpful when the person is not able to tell us what s/he needs.
Sustaining our own well-being
Mindfulness practice fosters a flexible, forgiving and kinder approach toward ourselves. Care partnering does not need to erode our overall health and well-being. We strengthen our resilience through developing self-awareness and growing the skills for responding wisely in the moment. When things go awry, which they inevitably do, we support our recovery by revisiting/returning to our self-care practices. These strategies result in less harm to our body, heart, and mind over time. The more presence we bring to care partnering, the more aware we can be in response to our own needs and the needs of others.