Caregiving and Rational Thought/Abilities

Two years ago, I read The Dementia Handbook by Judy Cornish. That book has had a significant impact on the way I look at dementia and the ways in which Kate and I have approached the topic. The key piece of learning was the distinction between rational and intuitive thought processes (or abilities). PWD lose their rational thought/abilities, that is, their ability to remember things like people, places, facts, and events as well as the procedures or steps to accomplish the activities of daily living.

Most people are aware of these symptoms, at least in a general way. That often leads to the conclusion that there is no hope for PWD. Cornish stresses that the loss of these abilities does not mean the end of happiness or even joy. Her view is based on the fact that PWD retain their abilities to experience the world directly through their senses and that much pleasure and satisfaction with life comes to all of us this way.

This fits rather nicely with an admonition that is often given to caregivers of people with dementia. “You have to live in their world. They can’t live in yours.” This and Cornish’s work on rational and intuitive thought goes a long way in explaining why Kate and I have gotten along so well. That is largely because I enjoy many of the things that appeal to her through her intuitive thought. It is also because I derive so much pleasure from her own enjoyment.

I have made much of the importance of Kate’s intuitive abilities in this blog. That and my belief that I should “live in her world” leads me to suspect that some of you may think I believe rational abilities are of secondary importance to those that are intuitive. Experiences like those in my previous post probably reinforce that belief. For that reason, I would like to comment on the role of the rational ones for a caregiver.

My view is that caregiving, as well as everything else we do, is better when we rely on both our rational and intuitive skills. My emphasis on the intuitive ones is based on the fact that Kate and I are able to derive so much daily pleasure from them; however, even those things are influenced by my use of rational abilities.

I’ve read a number of books and articles by and for caregivers. Many of them are memoirs of their experiences while caring for someone with dementia. Others are “advice books.” The very nature of the latter taps into the rational abilities of caregivers. The level of detail varies, but they all attempt to provide other caregivers with a set of guidelines to help them avoid or minimize the problems they are likely to encounter. They are often lessons that the authors had to learn the hard way. They include advice like I mentioned above. “Live in their world.”  “Maintain a daily routine.” “Don’t contradict.” Some identify activities they have found helpful like music, art, trips to museums or zoos, coloring books, etc.

The value of rational abilities goes well beyond those designed to deal with specific issues experienced by PWD. They involve making sure that all legal and financial issues are in order, scheduling routine and not-so-routine health and medical appointments, deciding if and when it is right to bring in help and what type is best for one’s particular situation, deciding whether to keep a loved one at home or rely on a facility like assisted living or memory care.

The list of such things is endless. During any given day, caregivers must make decisions that depend on their rational abilities. They are especially important because PWDs have lost their own abilities to do those things.

Because Kate and I have experienced joy while “Living with Alzheimer’s,” I’ve been interested in the memoirs of caregivers who have had similar experiences. In each case, the caregivers have been very active in planning and managing the daily routines of their loved ones. Caregiving is not an easy task. Success requires both rational and intuitive abilities.

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