Friday, July 3, 2015

The Caregiving Wisdom of Dogs

Caregivers come from all walks of life.  They have been studied, observed, hypothesized, analyzed, interviewed, examined and questioned from scientists, and social workers from all over the world. These questions are timely in 2015. According to “Living With Dementia,” recently presented at Johns Hopkins University - the not so distant future projects a large percentage of seniors in the U.S., and worldwide,  battling one, or many forms of dementia. The positive effects of care giving on the caregiver are rarely ever studied, and need to be, so that we can properly train caregivers to avoid burnout by serving the masses in a compassionate, joyful and meaningful manner.

 There are groups of four legged, furry people friends that exemplify  positive care giving qualities. These care giving communication experts have much to offer, and need to be analyzed by social scientists. There are boundless stories of dogs being attentive to the needs of humans, and I have seen the very strong bond of my black lab, and how she (literally) follows my mother, who is battling dementia, everywhere! Skillful caregivers,  and happy dogs have a lot in common, and here is why:

 1) Dogs are loving companions, and loyal friends. Dogs live in the “now,” in every situation, ready to express unconditional love to their humans.
2) Dogs are dependable. Dogs always follow through, readily giving support when needed, with little prompting and total focus, wanting to please the person they are serving with 100% effort regardless of the situation even if it means putting their own needs last.
 3) Dogs are very forgiving. They see the good in the person they are serving without judgement of their actions, without anger, resentment, or control.  Dogs are obediently motivated to be followers to their Alpha humans, waiting for cues of when, how and why to act, rather than reacting, or being driven to act in victimized, fearful or hostile ways.
 4) Dogs are very, very resilient. They bounce back when they are put down, and still remain loyal, compassionate and loving forever, never changing.
 5) Dogs live in the moment and are spontaneous. They love structure, but they also have a playful, fun-loving side which makes them very, very flexible to changes that can happen throughout the day, and throughout their lives.
6) Dogs are masters of non-verbal communication.  They study sounds, smells, vocal inflections, body language and the silence between the words. In some ways, one can say that dogs are the masters of mind reading, and emotional tone. Dogs can sum up a situation in 3 seconds merely by their powers of observation that are highly attuned to the spiritual essence of connecting on a heart and soul level to other living beings, (human, or animal, cats included!). 
7) Dogs are natural healers. (Pardon the pun, “healers.”) They have been known to empathize on a deep level with their human counterparts, and throughout history have done things that have defied the logic of the greatest scientific discoveries, sacrificing their own lives to save the life of a friend, human or animal. 

So, how can we as humans, ever live up to what dogs and other animal caregivers  (cats, too), can teach us? As caregivers, we are given ample opportunities every day, to learn the art of compassion. But what is important to remember, is that the first person we need to forgive and show compassion towards, is ourselves!  We are humans doing the very best that we can!!

 Care giving is a very tough path, and many of us end up losing the stress battle altogether, becoming just as ill as the person we are caring for!!  This is a sad proven fact, but true.  However, there are ways to improve our interactions with the person or persons being cared for which cannot only energize us, bringing us health and  liberation, but can offer  deep spiritual bonds to the person being cared for, regardless of whether our loved one has verbal abilities, or not. I know this for a fact.  I have seen this and I have lived this. (Yes, before becoming a caregiver, I was a dog trainer!) 

  Experts are doing all they can to readily study the physical effects of stress burnout, but rarely if ever do we see studies that reflect successful care giving methodologies. The life-giving effects of eustress (the type of stress that gives one, a feeling of well-being, joy and fulfillment),  that caring for a loved one can and does bring to some caregivers. These are difficult studies to find in present day scientific research literature. And this is mind-boggling!!!!  These skills of positive communication, and intentional centering can easily be practiced and shared on a large international scale,  creating a much brighter future for people living with dementia, and their carers.

 There are many questions still to be answered regarding dementia care, especially in the United States.  Is there funding for positive communication methods for people caring for people living with dementia? And where are these studies, (if there are any studies),  on positive communication techniques being published? Research is pointing to a possible shortage of care givers in the future, so timing means everything. Most of what is working, has been explored from people who have had years of experience, in nursing homes, and one-on-one with people suffering from dementia using positive, life-affirming techniques. These communication techniques need to be applied BEFORE re-direction, and are creating very positive outcomes.

 I do believe, as is the case with dog training, the dog always has a reason for it's behavior. The trainer needs to gain the dog's trust, and see the world through the dog's eyes FIRST by connecting with love, compassion and empathy. The dog is never wrong!!  A great dog whisperer learns how to help a dog by letting the dog lead them into greater understanding in a safe, and honoring way. Not in a controlling way, using physical restraints, or by barking commands at the dog by making the dog wrong.  And the same holds true for people.

There is always a reason for bizarre dementia behavior, according to Naomi Feil, MSW and author of Validation Breakthough  ALWAYS!! We need to train people to be willing to be led, and to let go of any idea of forceful ways of control rather than peaceful, positive, and honoring communication.   Sometimes the simplest, most cost effective solution to a challenge is right in front of our eyes, or (in this case), covered with fur, with it's tail wagging at our feet.

So for now, when it comes to mastering the art of true companionship, and positive  non-verbal communication, we can use this simple, “guide dog wisdom,” to remind ourselves of a few things. 1) To live in the moment. 2) To learn to be flexible, and 3) Through attentive, active listening, to be willing to be led, in order to truly be a loving and giving companion to those, whom we have been given the highest calling from God to serve. 

Positive Communication methods for people living with dementia:  We recommend seminars by Teepa Snow,M.S., OTR/L.FAOTA, Naomi Feil, MSW,, and her books, all of them. And the life changing, ground breaking book, "Contented Dementia," by Dr. Oliver James 
Copyright 2015 Caregivers Get Fit! Mama  Nicey

The information in this blog is information. It is not meant to be a replacement for getting medical advice from your own health professional regarding your own individual health challenge or condition. Dr. Denise will not diagnose, treat, or give direct personal consultations/advice to you on this blog for any medical condition, but will give general examples, and scientific research on many different health topics.  How you decide to use the information is between you and your own medical/ health professional.

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