Give me a break!

It has to be said that supporting a parent with Dementia is tough! There are days when you can feel as if you are the one losing your mind (more on that in future posts). One of the other difficult aspects is the inability to predict how your parent will be from one day to the next.

By this I mean their mood or frame of mind. It’s much easier with Dad as his condition doesn’t seem to impact his mood. As we mentioned before, Dad technically has Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus which has dementia as one of it’s symptoms. Whilst this causes quite extreme short term memory problems it doesn’t seem to come with the mood swings. Although there are other symptoms that are unpleasant for Dad they are in a way easier for us to deal with.

In my day job I work with business leaders using the findings from Neuroscience, so I know a little of how the brain works. The brain is a prediction seeking machine. It likes to know what is going to happen and rewards itself with a squirt of dopamine when it gets the prediction right. When the prediction is wrong the dopamine levels drop below the norm.

That is what has happened when we feel disappointed. So, I guess if you have memory problems and your predictions keep being wrong because you can’t remember what you were going to say or where your purse is, there must be quite a bit of disappointment going on in the brain.

When I think about it like that I really can’t blame Mum for being a bit cranky at time, well a lot of times, actually! It must also be quite scary because the other thing about the brain is when something happens that it isn’t expecting it signals an error. These errors can feel like physical pain as they use the same brain circuits as those used for pain, like when stubbing your toe. So when you put all this together, mood swings seem an inevitable consequence of the condition.

Knowing about this of course doesn’t make it any easier! But there is something that can. And that’s how you manage your own reaction.

If I’m tired, have had a heavy day and need a break myself it is much harder to cope with mum in a bad mood. Whereas if I am centred, have had a good day and am generally feeling ok myself, I can listen to the details about her wet washing, sympathise with her concerns that intruders have stolen six of her best teaspoons and listen with compassion to the story I’ve already heard twice before.

So, one way to cope is to make sure that you are not just looking after your parent but also taking time out to look after yourself.

What did you do that was just for yourself today?