A comment on a post I wrote a couple of nights ago raised an issue that is significant for many Caregivers who are doing full time caregiving all day long every day.  The writer mentioned that she often uses the time after her Loved One goes to bed to try communicate with others, since the opportunity for adult conversation is limited.

For many of us conversation that was a routine part of our daily lives with our Loved One and with others has pretty much ceased.  Especially those caring for someone with a form of Dementia find it tough to converse meaningfully.  A number of recent emails from others who are caring for spouses with Dementia have included reflections on the challenge of dealing with the lack of meaningful conversation and the loneliness that sometimes settles in.

Until I retired a number of months ago, I was active in a profession that involved lots of meetings, visiting with people, counseling folks struggling with problems, speaking in front of groups, and many hours each day communicating electronically (email).  All of that came to a halt pretty much the day I retired.  Emails ceased, phone calls stopped, meetings ended, there were no more visits to be made, no more speaking in front of groups.

Now there is one person stuck with me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, someone who has never really been a talker and now after twenty-two years of Parkinson’s has taken its toll finds great difficulty getting thoughts into words and sustaining conversation.  She has struggled with the challenge of having me there constantly, so I can hardly complain.  She tired long ago of listening to my voice as it drones on and on.

One comment in an email I read tonight provided an image of the Caregiver in need of communication.  She mentioned that when she was at the dentist getting her teeth cleaned, every time the Hygienist took her hands out of her mouth she started talking immediately, not stopping until the instruments were back in her mouth.

I find myself starting conversations in with strangers in line at the store, or making conversation with the person at the register. Anyone who dares cross our threshold is likely to be fully engaged in conversation by the time their second foot has landed inside.

Anyone who reads this blog has certainly noticed the length of the posts.  When I write I imagine that there are people actually reading this with whom I am having conversation.

Living in a world of silence other than the sound of the television, can certainly produce a deep sense of loneliness.  I suspect there are lonely Caregivers by the tens of thousands out there.  It seems to me very likely that lots of them, probably a majority, are not computer users who have the option of going online and relating to others regularly. If the Caregivers are lonely, imagine how lonely and bored those who need the care must be.

There are no simple solutions to the loneliness and isolation, the boredom and lack of conversation that comes with the Caregiver and Carereceiver territory.  For me the battle with loneliness starts with developing a rich inner life that experiences each moment fully and fills my thoughts with wonderful images from my environment, from reading, from the lives of others I have encountered, from my own story, from a head filled with unfinished business, from intellectual and spiritual curiousity.

While I have never been a writer, the exercise of writing these posts is safisfying and fulfilling.  Reading emails and occasionally responding to those who are caring for spouses with Lewy Body Dementia is engaging.  When Volunteers come to stay with Mary Ann to give her a break from my constant presence, it takes me a long time to get out the door as I engage them in conversation.  I find myself on the phone with brothers and sisters more often than ever before in my life.  Trips to the coffee shop to get a cup of coffee take a little longer. When we attend the Parkinson’s Support Group meetings, I am not shy in speaking up.

Since I am not good at all at small talk, I know very little about sports and I am completely uninterested in debating politics, conversation just for the sake of talking is not all that satisfying.  I suppose I can talk about the weather with the best.  I do have a genuine interest in people’s stories, so given the opportunity, I will find out what you do and what you like and dislike about it, where you have lived, what challenges you have faced and how you are coping with them.  The problem when homebound by the Caregiving task, or the chronic illness, is that the opportunities for such meaningful conversations are limited.

While it helps, electronic communication is not fully satisfying to me since I thrive on the non-verbal elements of communication as well as the actual words themselves. Getting out of the house with the one for whom you are caring is worth the effort.  Go anywhere.  Do anything.  Put yourselves out there where the chance for human interaction and verbal interchange is possible.

Every job has its good points and its bad points.  The trick is to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” as the lyrics to an old song say.  Celebrate what is good that the Caregiving experience brings into your life.  Refuse to give the negative more power than it is due in ruling, in defining your life. I know that is far easier said than done.

Caregiver loneliness — Are you?  What are you doing about it?  What works for you?

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