Working for the dementia care domain: my journey over the past six years or so (Part 1 of a two-part blog entry)

It’s over six years since I started sharing my experiences and thoughts on dementia care, and it has been a strange, unexpected journey. As I step back a bit to consolidate, I’m using a two-part blog post to document what I’d done so far and what I am considering for the future.

In this part, I write about what I’ve done so far, what influenced my choices about sharing and my chosen way of sharing, and some data on where I am right now.

The unplanned beginning

My mother’s dementia symptoms had no clear onset; they crept up and kept growing till they took away pieces of her life and mine. I was clueless, unprepared, and unsupported. The dementia symptoms were devastating enough, but the lack of awareness and support around us made coping far more difficult. Even when my mother’s dementia reached mid-stage and she required full-time attention and availability, people around me were disbelieving, critical, or busy in their own work and priorities. Sometimes my mother and I would end up spending stretches of days with no one but each other for company. I was perpetually exhausted.

I began a few tentative blog entries around mid-2008, just to feel less alone. I didn’t expect anyone to read what I wrote; I didn’t even want anyone to read it. My sporadic blog elicited occasional emails from persons saying they could relate to the situations I described in my posts. The catharsis provided me enough relief to become more proactive about my caregiving role. I read more books, even attended a conference and some caregiver training. I realized that, like me, many caregivers experienced isolation and overwhelm. I began thinking, “No one should be so alone through such stuff,” and then, “Would my sharing my experiences help?”

The nature of my participation began changing slowly, over the months. Whereas earlier I read books, and attended courses and support groups to pick tips for myself, I began doing so to share with others and support them. I equipped myself by reading voraciously, exchanging ideas whenever I could, and even attending a “master trainer” course, intended to “train the trainer.” My understanding improved, I felt more involved, and my canvas widened.

I was still performing the actual care tasks for my mother on many days, and coordinating them on others. I had to remain alert about crisis, and available at short notice, but my support had improved because my husband had adjusted his travel and workload so that we could take turns/ share the work, and I had also got a competent attendant who genuinely cared for my mother. It was possible to take out some relatively worry-free hours for other work.

So there I was, feeling more involved and determined to do my bit, looking for ways to contribute. Blogging and content creation seemed a good way to do so.

The pieces of work added up

My online work has essentially been built as a series of small steps, all done from my desk at home. I picked up work I could usually break up into pieces I could squeeze into available time, stopped when I was busy with care and other responsibilities, picked up when I had some spare time or energy. I could pace my involvement.

My blog was a collection of random personal thoughts, and as my blog picked up pace, I began thinking about the lack of structured material. I had always been unhappy that the available material on dementia care was not tuned for India because it assumed a different social context, a different culture, and a different level of institutional support. I thought about creating more suitable material but lacked the confidence to proceed. I was also unsure whether I’d have the energy to do a reasonable coverage. It seemed too vast a topic, and though I was better informed now, at times I felt like a helpless caregiver, not someone confident enough to undertake such a project.

Even so, I sometimes caught myself mentally drafting material suitable for a caregiver in India, written from a caregiver perspective. And then, one day, I thought of a structure to fit those (still only in my mind) pages. I already had a personal site, and I could add a section on dementia to it. It was just a matter of typing what was in my mind. I took the plunge. A fortnight or so later, I had created a section on dementia on my personal website. This was around the beginning of 2010. I felt so diffident about my audacity (of creating material) that I didn’t do much publicity, and was scared someone would read the pages and find them useless or bad.

But the stream of ideas would not stop. I felt I should have done more pages, a better and more complete job. And I felt that dementia care in India was a large and important topic that deserved a site of its own, not merely a side-show on a personal site.

As before, I was not sure whether I wanted to do the work. I had no idea whether it would help anyone; I had absolutely no reason to believe anyone would even bother to read it. On some days I was scared that if I set up a website and no one came, my work would be a waste. On other days, I was scared that I would create something awful and full of mistakes and that someone (huge and powerful and authoritative) would publicly humiliate me for being presumptuous enough to create a website. I was apprehensive whenever I thought of it, which was often. Because, again, I was mentally drafting more and more pages of what such a site could contain. Ideas abounded, as did doubts. The site would need some illustrations; could I draw them? The site should include interviews; how would I get them, why would anyone talk to me? Would I have the stamina to put together so many pages? My caregiving responsibilities were increasing….Did I really need yet another stress in my life?

I think it took around four months of mental drafts and structuring before I felt my brain would boil over if I did nothing, and so I began actual drafting. And it took some more time before I took the plunge to ask a volunteer I knew for some help in identifying caregivers who may be willing to give interviews. Then I picked up pace and started approaching some caregivers and others on my own, too. Creating online material required learning a lot of technical stuff and I did it in small packets. I remained conflicted about the whole idea: I was scared that I would be visible, and scared that I would not. I would work in spurts, then stop, never quite sure I would actually let the site go live. But the matter was now there, the background work done. One day I told myself, see, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just delete the site. It’s not like I’ve taken any funds from anyone or that I owe anything to anyone. No one needs to know that I tried something and failed.

So I tamped down my personal website section on dementia, and geared up to make the full-fledged website operational.

Dementia Care Notes went live in the later part of 2010, a site reasonably complete but somewhat different from what it is today. There was barely a trickle of visitors for several months. I thought I’d sunk in a huge amount of energy into something useless. Worse, some site features required a lot of ongoing effort. For example, that initial site included a section with commentaries and summaries on latest published research papers, as well as promptly updated summaries of dementia-related news from India. This type of feature sucked up a lot of energy, and I started regretting my decision to have a site at all. No visitors, and a lot of energy being spent. What a fool I’d been.

But there was no point pulling off the site, either. So I streamlined the back-end and rethought the content approach. I removed items I considered low “value-add” and also removed content of the sort already present at many other sites (research summaries, for example). I added more material specifically meant for caregivers in India. I expanded pages, and created and added illustrations. Since I didn’t have enough of a personal or “social network” contacts to help me spread the word, I began reading up basic concepts related to search engine visibility. Miles to go, and all that…

Dementia Care Notes was an English site. It took a while for me to realize that I should be considering a Hindi site, and also videos in English and Hindi. For every new type of content preparation and presentation, I went through the usual agony of hesitation, followed by weeks of mental drafting, and so on, before taking the plunge.

I began creating and adding English and Hindi videos to Youtube around later part of 2011, one video at a time, with the video releases often spaced out by months. (Two channels: my personal interviews and videos with information and suggestions for caregivers ). My Dementia Hindi website went live in early 2012. Sometime along the line I realized that some of my material may be interesting to volunteers who wanted to help caregivers. So I put together a section for volunteers, this time on my blog (currently at: Resources for Volunteers). I hesitated a lot for this, too, but then as always I thought, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just delete the pages. And I kept uploading my presentations on Slideshare, too, just so they were available if someone wanted to have a look. Very recently, I also began posting on a Hindi blog.

My confidence increased along the way as I was able to connect with many caregivers and others, and thus able to improve/ validate my understanding. I kept amending and improving my material alongside, and I now make it a point to periodically review all my website material to ensure it reflects whatever I know and can suggest based on my updated understanding. But I also know that I am not an expert and that my knowledge can never be complete.

Along the way I have ended up with more visibility than I feel comfortable with. This visibility has meant getting calls/ emails for an interview or so sometimes, or an invitation to speak at a conference or to coordinate a meeting. I go through an agonizing process every time I respond–on one hand, I know that, given my concern about this area, I should speak up, but on the other hand, I want to curl up and hide. I end up speaking, but I need a lot of preparation time to psych myself up for the event, and I need a wind-down time to recover. Each such interaction drains me.

To create online resources, I have needed to learn several new skills; the effort has been substantial. I have done all the work alone, not just the writing. For example, I learned about setting up websites and hosting. I learned about WordPress and its plugins and themes, decided what would suit my site, etc. For illustrations, I had to conceptualize them, and learn enough about graphics packages to actually draw them. When I decided to create videos, I had to learn about audio recording and editing, and video recording and editing, screen captures, and so on. And then there were the loads of things needed to keep the site operational and safe and backed up and so on… As I did not know anyone else using a similar approach, I didn’t just have to learn the skills, I had to first identify which skills were relevant and locate suitable resources for them. The process was invigorating, but also somewhat lonely.

I didn’t just learn based on what I wanted to make, I have been doing a lot of exploratory learning, too, so as to understand the possibilities and have a wider perspective about the context as such. I keep myself informed on areas directly or indirectly affecting my dementia work. I keep up-to-date with discussions, books, papers, and reports on dementia care, and also do small courses on topics that ensure I can follow discussions reasonably well; this includes health and medicine related areas and also areas on possible ways to convey messages–a vast range of topics like social psychology, critical thinking, online instruction, technology and media, and so on. Part of this helps me refine what I am doing; part helps me glimpse at potential areas of work; and part of it never gets used, but I don’t know what will turn out to be useful and what will not.

Some data:

I have no targets as such, but I glance occasionally at what I’ve done to see where I am. Here’s some data (as of the day of writing this blog entry):

I also respond to emails and interact on social media with caregivers, and once in a while, participate in conferences or training programs or support group meetings. I end up interacting with many concerned persons–volunteers, students, others. A quick glance at my email folder shows the emails exchanged run into thousands. And then there are the one-on-one face-to-face interactions with caregivers. It’s frightening.

All said, the numbers I share above are not particularly large. Many persons have distinctly more impressive stats for their work, and bigger social circles, and more connections. Me, I’m constrained by my diffidence and lack of targets and ambition. All that inspirational talk on “be the change” and “be positive” and how people want to “make a difference” doesn’t touch me; my sole motivation is a sense that I have no justification to waste my knowledge and skills. I cannot face myself if I know I could have tried to do something and I let my self-doubt hamper me. I may not end up being as bold as others are, but I try to stretch myself to the extent I can.

Someone once asked me, a few years ago, if I was satisfied with the stats and I had told him that, given that I had no reason to believe people would visit any material I prepared, the numbers were nice. The numbers were comfortably higher than zero, and zero is what the viewership would have been if I had chosen to not write. I marvel that I managed to get any audience at all, given that I was just someone typing away on her laptop.

That “it’s greater than zero” was not some cool, wise answer, or even a good one. It was a reflection of my utter cluelessness when I started work on dementia, my lack of a tangible target and my inability to have any dreams. I was a reluctant experimenter in an untried field. I had no baseline to use, no similar/ competing resource to compare myself with. The situation was trickier for Hindi material, which was a real shot-in-the-dark gamble. (When I see that the viewership of the Hindi material combines to over 30,000, I hope someone else decides that working in Indian languages is worth considering.)

My situation is different now. Even though I still have no targets and no basis for specific goals, I am aware that my choices involve trade-offs. I have too many ideas, far more than what I had when I started off. I know that chasing one idea, such as preparing a particular document, means I won’t be able to chase a different idea or prepare a different document. While I am now moderately comfortable with existing projects, I am also aware that, given my personality, I will go through an agonizing bout of self-doubt for any new project; it is a cost I pay for every initiative I take. I feel the need to make effective choices, because I know how limited my time and energy are. I’ll use the second part of this blog post for my thoughts on my future modality and effort.

Edited to add: The second part of this blog entry is now available at: Working for the dementia care domain: what next? (Part 2 of a two-part blog entry)

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Families, support, privacy, caregiving and chaos and misunderstandings in unprepared families

I am an only child who grew up in a nuclear family and spent most of my childhood in cities far away from relatives, I always had this “grass is greener when you have siblings and a large family” conviction which was further boosted by all the talk I heard about how families were always there for you, they were the people you could depend on, the safety net, and so on. I even remember how, when I was around eight or nine years old, someone asked me what I wanted, and I said I wanted a brother or sister, “kisee bhee size ka ho”, something everyone around me found very amusing (except my parents, perhaps).

Cut forward several years, I started having doubts about this “normal family” warm, fuzzy envelop of love, of “your family is always there for you, with you” sort of business. My experience net had widened. I saw families that remained rock-solid together regardless of tsunamis of setbacks. I also saw families where siblings retained a relaxed amiability across distances that let them connect emotionally even if months has passed by between conversations. But then there were families where sibling fights were bitter and beyond reconciliation. And there were the other families where, whilst there were no outright yelling-slanging match, the gaps were unbridgeable and smiles stiff and reserved for when outsiders were watching, and the normal distance of cities and busy schedules were a matter of relief. There was no universal standard of “family”.

And I wondered whether the implied concept of “normal, happy family” and lasting sibling affection was more a matter of wishful thinking. Perhaps people kept talking of it as a norm when it was actually more of an “ideal”. I wondered whether repeated statements of “this is our culture” and “normalcy” around “family-oriented society” made people feel defensive, guilty, or inadequate about their differences and conflicts with siblings.

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Reducing caregiver isolation, working from home, using coworking

Recently, I shared my own experience of isolation and loss of social skills as I became more and more occupied with caregiving, and then I suggested that caregivers be alert about this possibility and guard against it. A few days later, I happened to talk to a caregiver and she described what she planned to remain connected to people even when she worked from home. I asked her whether I can share her idea, and she not only agreed, she even said that such sharing helps people and she also may pick up ideas if others share their ideas (hint, hint, to any of you who has ideas) 🙂

Anyway, so this caregiver looks after a dependent parent who has dementia and is immobile, but can be safely left alone for a few hours. The caregiver works from home, executing freelance assignments that she does on her computer and emails. She was once very active socially and her enforced seclusion dampens her spirit, so here is what she is considering:

This caregiver has an “office room” to work from. Now she will add some tables and chairs to this room to make it suitable for multiple users. She will then invite friends who work from home to use her office room as their offices. Each person will work on her own assignments while sharing the same office space and in the companionable presence of others, so that they all feel like working more and don’t succumb to distractions or feel lonely. The caregiver plans to put out flasks of tea or coffee (for which she may ask her friends to pool money, or maybe not, she hasn’t decided).

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Down memory lane, one year of gathering caregiver perspectives, caregiver voices

I’m an asocial and risk-averse person, but I can be bloody-minded if convinced that something needs to be done, and so I sometimes start projects that defy sanity. That’s how I plunged into a rather hefty project around a year ago, self-directed, without any pressure from anyone but my own stubborn nature. It happened when I got sick of rummaging for dementia care stuff directly applicable in India, because though the Internet abounds with information on dementia, and also on its care, and there are plenty of books, too, most of these are designed for a different cultural context.

I wanted more tips that could be used here, in India, with terminology I could relate to, more examples, more situations. Stuff that took into account the abysmal awareness about dementia in India, and the lack of institutional support. Stuff that suggested resources available in India, or in Indian languages. Most of all, I missed the voices of fellow caregivers–their stories, their struggles, their successes. The community that remains hidden in shadows.

And so I created the Dementia Care Notes site.

Of course, there was no way I could say that anyone would bother to visit my new site. How would people know it existed? Why would they bother to read it? But hey, even if I lost some time and effort and money, at least I wouldn’t get this dirty helpless feeling that I hadn’t tried…

It was in September last year that I started planning an entire site dedicated to family caregivers looking after dementia patients in India. Not just a section on a website, not merely a few pages or a pamphlet, but a full-fledged site. I drafted out the core set of pages, and then bought the domain and made the site live. The website now has over 90 pages, all full of information about dementia and its care, resources in India, books, DVDs, presentations, and…plenty of interviews.

As of today, the Dementia Care Notes site has twenty-three detailed interviews, eighteen of them being interviews of caregivers: List of caregiver and volunteer interviews.

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Listening to caregivers, respecting them, supporting them

Years ago, when I was still a newbie caregiver and very overwhelmed, a friend/ colleague made the mistake of calling me up and asking me how things were. He vaguely knew of my mother’s issues and my problems of coping, and I therefore (I’ve always been naïve) took his question to be a genuine one, and proceeded with the answer. If a squirm can be seen over a phone line, well, that explains what I perceived, but I was desperate, and here was a listener…

Or was he?

A few minutes into it, he said, (I paraphrase and abbreviate, but you’ll get the drift) “Yes, well, sorry, hmm, ya, okay, so, must be bad, huh, hmmm, yaa, so, what else is going on? Let’s talk of something hmmm, ya, well, like, well positive…so how’re things…what else…”

Utter fool that I was, I answered, “There is nothing else.” Then it registered on my slow brain that he hadn’t wanted any of this rant. He’d probably expected me to be “positive.” He’d probably just wanted a couple of good, positive sentences from me before he went on to whatever else he had called for.

A full-speed train takes a few minutes to stop after the brakes are applied; I would probably have tapered off in about five sentences but by that time he had managed to sign off the conversation anyway.

I felt bewildered and also let down. I may not have minded had he not asked at all, but asking me and then not listening…

He never called again. I don’t know whether he took a conscious decision about it; it was probably just a discomfort he felt when he thought of me, something that made him choose to make other calls instead. He probably forgot the incident.

This incident happened almost nine years ago. As far as I was concerned, I was not asking him for solutions, or even sympathy. All I did was narrate my situation in response to a question. I may have come around to the point of uttering “positive” statements that society expects, but he shut me out before that.

Overall, this was just one of the early incidents that made me start understanding how isolating caregiving could be. It is through stuff like this that I began to realize that if I talked about the realities of my life, people switched off or decided to avoid me. If I wanted company, I had to pretend my life was very different.

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A difficult story to write: A caregiver’s tale

This post is about two women I read about in the newspapers, Sangeetha and Baby. The first time I read about them was in December 2010, while scanning newspapers for caregiver stories. I read about them again the same way, in February 2011. For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to make myself write this post about them. My way of honoring them. Because writing is my way of doing things.

Here is what I read in December, the first installment of the story.

The story starts in a simple way: Baby, a poor, widowed woman wanted her daughter Sangeetha to get educated, and slogging for years as a laborer to earn money, often ignoring her pains and other health problems.  Daughter Sangeetha studied hard, completed a bachelor’s degree, and then did her post-graduate diploma in computer applications.

Let us pause for a moment to imagine this: Baby, lifting heavy loads of stone, working long hours, and her daughter, struggling to study. I think it would be reasonable to assume that Sangeetha would be a first learner in the family, and every achievement of hers becomes more significant given her circumstances. She must have shown courage and intelligence. Presumably she did not fritter away her energies in the sort of fun and games that most of her peers would be doing; her mother worked hard, and so did she. They shared a dream, that of Sangeetha being educated.

To go on with the facts of the story, as reported: Baby’s severe pains reached a state when they could not be neglected. MRIs were done. Investigations conducted. Baby had developed Parkinson’s. Her mix of problems soon included dementia. Sangeetha, her education complete, had been trying to earn money on the side while attending coaching classes so that she could get a government job. But with Baby now having fits and falling, Sangeetha had to shift her role and become a fulltime caregiver.

I remember thinking, as I read this, that O’Henry would be proud of how life imitates fiction; this was a real-life Gift of the Magi story. Instead of working to get the job and complete her mother’s dream, Sangeetha gave up the possibility of a job because she could not leave her mother alone for even ten minutes. As the round-the-clock caregiver, Sangeetha lived in a small thatched hut and cleaned and fed her mother and watched her worsen. There was no money, no food, no medicine, except the small amounts that came thanks to the charity of some people and organizations. There was no time to go out and earn anything. There was no energy.  There were only bucketfuls of soiled clothes and caregiving work that never ended, and Sangeetha did it without grumbling. Day after day, month after month, year after year.

“A gem,” is how a neighbour described Sangeetha.

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Paring down to essentials

The process of adjusting life to cope with my mother’s situation began when her confusion and memory loss started becoming visible in longer interactions, well over a decade ago. She had not been diagnosed at this time (though we had been visiting neurologists) and we made these adjustments in response to her strange behavior and our failure to reach her through reason and negotiation.

My main focus of adjustment at this point was to create an environment that minimized her rage or frustration cycles. This was, I confess,  not as part of some well-thought out, compassionate and caring strategy, but a form of self-preservation. There was an air of helplessness and frustration. We had no idea she was suffering from a medical condition. Her “unreasonable” and “dictatorial” methods seemed parental meanness, of the sort movies depict, and I was trying to stay safe and sane.

For example, if she wanted her food served hot and got agitated otherwise, I tried my best to be around to make it and serve it hot.
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A common loneliness…

For the last few days, I’ve been recalling some of the challenges posed in caregiving because of my mother’s condition. These were places where her memory loss and confusion resulted in her saying and doing things that hurt her and people around her. They caused me repeated embarrassment and anger and frustration, they made me withdraw from people around me and effectively isolated me, and they made her fall ill and hurt herself. Most of the time, though I had begun to register that she was acting out of confusion (and not because she wanted to be mean), I had no effective way to reach out to her or to explain to others or generally make things better. There was an overall sense of helplessness and inevitability that I experienced.

I’d like to wrap up this part of my recollections by sharing her obvious sense of insecurity and isolation.

There were many incidents in those difficult years that showed how insecure my mother had started feeling. In addition to making me promise again and again that I would take care of her, she made it a point to complain to everyone about me, and when they talked tough to me, she’d tell me, “See, did you see what he said? You must do your duty properly.” Essentially, she was using these complaints to make sure I didn’t forget or neglect my duty. Earlier, I’d seen it as manipulation done out of dislike for me, but over time I realized this to be a twisted thinking of hers to get what she wanted.

She felt that if others were always telling me what my duty was, she would be safer.
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Ramblings on love, hate, and a life worth living

February has been a mixed month for my mother, the most painful part being when she went down with fever but could not tell us where the pain was. Being a dementia patient in an advanced stage, she cannot communicate her problems to us, which means we have to be detectives. Much investigation and deduction was attempted, without success, medication given to control the fever. Two days into the problem, she broke and swallowed a tooth–ouch! She broke another tooth again, the next day. Ergo, a tooth infection. Fever’s under control, and a dentist was requested to make a home visit to assess her dental status 🙂 A major project is now to be planned–a trip to the dentist to remove another tooth that is tethering on a breakdown, and to clean up the stuff left behind by the two not-so-neatly broken teeth. That she is fully bedridden makes the challenge more, well, challenging. Ah, well.

But what’s prompted me to write this blog is something quite unrelated, actually, a few unrelated things, that happened these last two weeks.

Firs, I’d like to share a memory dating around seven years ago. Seven years ago, I was still naive about dementia and how it affects people, still thinking increased memory loss was like losing ten keys a day instead of one. My mother was in her own denial mode, unwilling to admit to any memory loss. The world around her (as I can see in retrospect) bewildered her, and she was not going to tell anyone that. She was a fighter, she was. Often I saw her writing with a fierce concentration in a diary, and snap it close when I entered her room. One day, she left it open near her breakfast tray, and there it was, written with a red pen, written so angrily that the pen had torn through the paper. There were many broken sentences on the page, and I stopped short when I saw my name. She had written that she hated me, written it again and again and again, and written about others she hated, and at the end, there was: I hate hate hate the world.
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to talk or not to talk and whether one has a choice

On to the social interaction business, and my apparent ambivalence.

The life and choices I have are quite different from people who have been ‘peers’ of mine, and as I accept my new realities, I find myself grappling with trying to decide whom to interact with, how much, and for what aspects.

There is an entire range of topics I want to share with others but cannot share because the communication gap is too severe. I do not want to put off people and lose the bit of sharing I do have, so I have to choose carefully.
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catching up is easier than fretting about it

So, today, I have started actually catching up. I had a deadline I met yesterday, and with that, I have got myself a surge of energy to begin catching up.

And guess what? That consolidation of my to-do lists that I have spent quite a bit of time and a lot of energy fretting over, took all of ten minutes 🙂 The closing of last year’s diary and starting a new diary for this year took another fifteen minutes…

One funny thing about being busy is that I am never too busy to read stuff I want to read. Or to take a long walk, or listen to a talk that interests me. The ‘busy-ness’ of my life manifests in stuff more to do with socializing or other stuff that takes more ‘focus’ from me, and which I suspect will yield less pleasure. Actually, quite a few of the stuff I always manage to procrastinate about turn out reasonably satisfying, and even fun, when I get down to them. What diminishes the potentiality of enjoyment is the tension I’ve keyed myself into by imagining how horribly tiring and boring and overwhelming it may be.
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a solo dance is not good enough

Sometimes, some health news alarms me, like this one which suggests we party to keep away dementia.

Because, I cannot party. Not because I don’t want to, but because partying means you have a social circle that accepts you into its fun-making, and a support system that allows a measure of spontaneity, and a personal nature that can set aside all bothersome thoughts and responsibilities to wear dancing shoes and a beaming smile.

A calm and outgoing personality” needs a possibility of venues to implement that outgoingness 🙂 Social contact may be a way to stave off dementia, but it cannot be my way. Most of my interactions with fellow humans is by reading what they write (I gobble books) or through online groups, or through a sense of sharing (however limited) that blogging gives me. I enjoy a sprinkling of phone conversations with friends who stay in touch even though we never can meet. That, according to another article I read, does not count as being socially active. You have to go out and meet them, period.
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caregivers and their new planet

My focus in this post is the social isolation caregivers experience, a theme I have explored in previous posts, and a common problem caregivers face.

All of us shed old friends and acquaintances as time passes. School friends are forgotten, people who shared the same hobbies fall away as their hobbies or ours change. We leave a job, and our contact with old colleagues withers away. We move to another city. Children and siblings move away and marry. Many of these just happen, as a type of growing apart, when things that bind us are not relevant any more. Most of the time, we may not even notice them.

Some partings, though, do bring sorrow–those not initiated by us, or those with a lot of bitterness/ acrimony. Breakups. Divorces. Deaths. Fights. Misunderstandings. Each of these takes a toll, diminishing us in some way.

But then, there are new connections, too. A new lover, a new set of colleagues, a new community joined. A child born, a marriage that connects you to a new family. Some of these changes enrich us, some are unpleasant (a horrible boss, a tyrannical in-law).
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caregiver isolation

Yesterday, I shared a story of Friend A, alone, sad, feeling let down. The tragedy is, such isolation is not, well, isolated.

Again and again, if they open their hearts to you, caregivers will tell you how their caregiving becomes even more burdensome because people they knew earlier, friends, relatives, start cutting away. Often, this happens gradually, and often it happens without grace. That is, if asked, people give reasons that sort of blame the caregiver for it.

I know this from my own experience, and I know it from the experience of many other caregivers.  These are the sort of sentences we hear:
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