The Most Predictable Time of the Day

I’m never quite sure what Kate will be like when she wakes up. Confusion is common. A number of times she has been very disturbed. Sometimes she appears perfectly normal. That is, she doesn’t appear confused until she asks, “Where are we?” Sometimes she seems wide awake and happy. Other times, she acts like I am about to interfere with her rest. She is usually right about that.

Mornings represent a striking contrast with our evenings. She almost always feels completely at ease. I can’t identify a precise time this happens. I know it starts much earlier in the day when we leave the house. That is true whether we leave at 9:30 or 10:00 for Panera or closer to noon for lunch.

In her second book, Dementia with Dignity, Judy Cornish devotes the major portion of her book to “mood” and its relevance for those who care for people with dementia. She talks about the ability of PWD to read their caregivers moods. Having learned the importance the senses of PWD, I don’t find that surprising. This ability has significant implications for relating to PWD. Caregivers face many things they cannot control. It’s frustrating. Controlling mood, however, is something that caregivers can, at least to some extent, control. Whatever the caregiver’s mood, the PWD can read that and is more likely mimic it. If the caregiver is uneasy, the PWD is likely to become uneasy as well.

In earlier posts, I have suggested that Kate becomes more relaxed throughout the day. I have attributed that to the accumulation of information that makes her feel comfortable. She may not be any better at remembering the names of people and places, but she senses a lot of things with which she is familiar from the past. Cornish’s views on mood are making me think more carefully about my role as a “manager” of them. I am more sensitive to the fact that I can play a role in making her more or less at ease.

When I think about it, I believe our everyday experiences tell us one person’s mood can affect someone else. I have often said in this blog that “When Kate is happy, I am happy.” That isn’t unique to the relationship of caregivers and PWD. That is true for spouses, for parents and their children, or even for one stranger encountering another.

There are at least two important differences, however, in the relationship of a caregiver and the PWD. First, the PWD has lost her rational ability to control her emotions or to work with someone else to do so. Second, the caregiver is the one who is “officially” in charge. If any changes are to be made, it is the caregiver’s responsibility to make them.

In relationships between spouses, we generally expect  both people to have sufficient rational ability to play a role in maintaining the appropriate moods (though we know that isn’t always the case). The same is true for strangers. It’s a bit different with parents and children. In this case, parents are in charge, and part of their responsibility is teaching their children learn rational ways to behave in social relationships. Children can learn. PWD can’t.

With these things in mind, I believe I have unconsciously assumed that management of Kate’s mood is part of my caregiving role. I wasn’t aware that my own mood might be making a difference in hers. Well, to be honest, I have felt that coming in to wake her in the morning has sometimes made her grumpy. That seems legitimate. If were sleeping soundly and didn’t see any reason to get up, I might be grumpy too. That is why I started waking her up so gently. I usually play music that I know she enjoys for 15-30 minutes before making an effort to rouse her. Even then, I wake her gently and allow plenty of time to avoid my rushing her.

Following this procedure seems to work, but not always. That is when I have to work harder not to push. I try to be very careful in the way I speak to her. I am as calm and relaxed as I can be. There are times when I say, “You don’t have to rush. You have plenty of time.” She sometimes doubts me and says somewhat gruffly, “Are you sure?” I continue to be calm, and her mood begins to change. It isn’t unusual for her to apologize for the way she spoke to me.

This isn’t always easy for a caregiver. For many, it’s very hard. That’s because our emotions often play such a key role in how we respond to things that irritate us. The role of a caregiver demands a greater emphasis on our rational skills than our roles in other relationships. We have to double our efforts. Our loved ones cannot do it. They have lost those skills.

Let’s go back to the fact that Kate’s mood is at its best in the evening. I believe creating that mood starts in the morning when she gets up. It’s no challenge at all if she wakes up in a good mood. There is little work to be done except to reinforce it throughout the day. If she is grumpy, however, it’s going to require a rational control of my responses in order to shift her mood. I am grateful she responds so easily. I love the reward of a good mood that peaks in the evening. It’s a great way to end the day.

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