How to Help People with Dementia Improve

by Jane Verity © dementiacareinternational

Change Your Focus – Change Your Experience
Whether you think you can,  or whether you think you can’t, you’re right!
Henry Ford

If we are to assist people who have dementia to improve, we need to believe that improvement is possible. The first step to achieving this is to change our belief from: dementia is an irreversible degenerative disease without a cure, to one that says: dementia is simply a disability of certain parts of the brain.

To understand the power of this statement, we introduce you to the fascinating communication tool known as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP is a way of understanding how we use language to program our brain. Let’s take the present day belief about dementia being an irreversible degenerative disease without a cure. If we accept these powerful words at face value, they program us at a subconscious level. Without being aware of it, they condition our minds to a very narrow view of the prognosis for the person with dementia.

If these words become our belief, improvement will not be the first thought that comes to mind when we think of dementia. Instead these words will automatically condition us to believe something like: The disease is taking hold of the person and dragging him or her downhill; no matter what I do or how much I try, the disease will have its ‘own way’ and I can’t do anything about it.

How Our Focus Determines the Experience

NLP helps us understand how we process the information that comes into our brains and how we create a simplified version of our experiences in our minds. NLP shows that the simplified version we may accept is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the actual experience, and is largely determined by what we focus on.

Imagine a bus crowded with passengers who all board at the same stop and are making exactly the same trip. Each will have a different experience determined by what is important to them. In other words, by what they focus on.

One of the male passengers is riding the bus for the first time and has been told that he must get off at the stop where there is a hotel on one corner and a petrol station on the other. He will sit with his attention firmly focused on finding that corner with the distinguishing landmarks.

The second passenger is an elderly lady who makes the trip not because she has any particular destination in mind but purely for the enjoyment of it. She loves gardens and flowers; being seated high on the bus allows her to look over fences and into people’s gardens.

The third passenger is not the slightest bit interested in what goes on outside the bus because she just loves to sit and observe her fellow passengers and make up stories about each of them; why they are on the bus; where they have come from; where they are going; why they are going and so on.

When the bus arrives at the stop with the hotel on one corner and petrol station on the other, quite coincidentally, all three of the above passengers get off.

Although each of them has travelled on exactly the same bus, on the same route, at the same time – each of them will have had a very different experience.

What they will remember afterwards will be their personal, simplified version of the trip – determined by what they were focusing on during the ride.

So it is with everything we do – our focus determines our experience.

How Beliefs are Maintained

Hungarian biologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly tells us that we are being bombarded by around 2 million bits of information every second. However, none of us can process that amount; we would most likely become insane if we could.

Our brain has a clever filtering system, which ensures that only 134 bits of information get through. Only these are processed and the remaining huge amount of information is deleted.

NLP explains how this filtering system operates.

Our brain processes the information by the use of three filters known as:

  • Generalisations
  • Deletions
  • Distortions

The 134 bits of information that our brain allows through these filters is determined by our individual values, beliefs, interests, experiences, knowledge, focus and so on.

When you meet a person who has similar beliefs to you, the conversation tends to flow freely and new ideas and inspiration often occur. On the other hand, when you meet a person of opposing views, you subconsciously mobilise these filters to defend your own beliefs.

Here is How the Filters Work

Imagine someone has written something that suggests your beliefs are not true. To protect your views, you may do one of the following:

  • Generalise, by thinking, ‘Oh well, this person belongs to the opposite party and they’re all unreliable; therefore I don’t need to take any notice. Or you may:
  • Delete and simply ignore what the person has written and banish it from your mind as if it never existed. Or you may:
  • Distort by taking a sentence out of context and thereby twist the information to suit your beliefs.

It is important to remember that this is something we do at a completely subconscious level. We are never consciously aware that our brain is filtering every piece of information we receive. These filters maintain our large and strong beliefs… and all our little beliefs too!

So how does all of this affect our beliefs about dementia?

If our belief is that dementia is an irreversible degenerative disease without a cure, we will subconsciously program our filters to only allow through what sustains this belief and delete what does not.

At a subconscious level we will be looking for signs that prove the disease has taken hold and is pulling the person downhill. Our focus will be primarily on all the little things that go wrong or are not working, because the person is misinterpreting, not remembering, getting things wrong, etc.

Unfortunately, even when we experience an improvement (for example, the person remembers something they normally forget or does a task they haven’t been able to do) our filters will ensure that this positive information does not influence our belief.

As always, our experience will be determined by our focus.

Here is what may happen when our filters are focused on the negatives. We use a:

  • generalisation by saying, ‘One indication of improvement not mean that all is well now.’
  • deletion because we simply don’t notice the improvement. It was deleted before we could even consciously process it.
  • distortion by thinking, ‘Well, I really don’t need to take any notice because I know that in a moment he/she will revert to the same old ways.’

So our subconscious beliefs about dementia can keep a person on the downward path. They simply don’t have a chance to improve unless we make a conscious decision to change our beliefs about dementia.

Here is the good news!

The same filters are at work when we change our thinking and will help us to sustain the belief that dementia is simply a disability of certain parts of the brain!

When we adopt this new belief, we become programmed to accept that the disability is contained to only certain areas – and allows us to focus on all of the qualities, skills and abilities that the person has that are still functioning. We can now begin to think improvement and, when we focus attention on this, those amazing filters will allow through all that sustains the belief and delete the rest. Our filters will literally become a cheer squad to build improvement and well-being in the lives of those for whom we care!

Inspiration From Another Field

When experts work with people who have a physical disability, they use a two-pronged positive approach. Firstly, they work on improving the functions that the disability affects to the highest possible level; then they shift the focus to strengthen every other function and resource that the person has to compensate for the areas that no longer work to their full capacity. They adopt a positive mindset by thinking that:

“Disability” means “Possibility”

We need to apply this same principle to dementia.

  1. Acknowledge the disability and work on improving it to the highest level of functioning.
  2. Make a conscious decision to focus our attention on what the person is still able to do and help build on those areas so they can compensate for the disability.

Once we consciously make the shift from focusing on the disease, and what’s wrong with the person, to focusing on the person’s abilities and all that they are still able to do; we take the first and most important step towards helping the person with dementia to improve.

We hope that this article may serve as a catalyst for all to experience the joys of helping people with dementia grow and become proactive in a community where we foster a new focus on health and wellness and the belief that improvement is possible!

Further reading – Click topic

  • The Nun Study – Jane Verity (Read  Dr. David Snowdon’s amazing research findings showing that some of the participating nuns – at autopsy – revealed brains riddled with the plaques & tangles of Alzheimer’s disease, yet showed no symptoms of dementia.)
  • How can Aromatherapy Help People with Dementia? –  E. Joy Bowles BSc. (Joy’s article reveals how the ‘sense of smell is non-verbal & can get through” to emotions when words fail’; the use of smells can help orient people with dementia to time & space; tips for choosing & using the right oils to lessen anxiety, agitation & depression.)
  • Brahmi – The Traditional Ayurvedic Brain Tonic – Dr Ruth Cilento – (world-renowned holistic medical practitioner & author of Heal Cancer and Age without Alzheimer’s shares how Brahmi improves learning processes & memory; how it works; who can benefit; why brahmi is particularly therapeutic for the elderly, plus more on its health benefits.)
  • Gingko Biloba –  Dr Ruth Cilento – (world-renowned holistic medical practitioner & author of Heal CancerAge without Alzheimer’s explains the many healing properties of Gingko Biloba, its positive effects on memory & learning abilities & for arresting symptoms of dementia.)
  • The Garbage Run Miracle – Colin’s amazing real-life story of improvement.
  • The Garbage Run Miracle Continued – Colin’s incredible improvement continues.

Relevant Resources:
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