We as a society have spent so much money on trying to cure Alzheimer's disease and have yet to come with anything concrete, it is Dr. Shabahangi's belief that we need to focus on the care of these individuals and how we treat people them while we try to help them live in the "moment."
Forgetting is an incredible human invention, you can learn to be in the moment, and sometimes it's actually better when you do forget (especially when it concerns previous stress or trauma). When you are around people with Alzheimer's disease you learn to be in the present, you talk about what is happening now, and not what has happened in the past.
It changes your entire perspective for you and your loved ones.
It's not easy when a grandma doesn't remember your name. It's not easy when your 10-year-old laughs at your uncle or your 5-year-old is crying because grandpa doesn't remember her gifts last Christmas.
What can you do to make sure that the younger generation understands those with Alzheimer's and the elders who are forgetful are still included in your family celebrations?
Dr. Shabahangi believes you can follow these steps to reach so acceptance and understanding, and hopefully, you'll find peace and joy along the way for yourself as well:
- Be grateful. Holidays is the time to reflect and be thankful for having all the people in your life - those who are forgetful and those who are not.
- Be a good example. Model good behavior and inclusionary gestures for your children - they will notice and follow your lead. This is a great way to reduce fear in kids as it relates to Grandma's forgetfulness. Explain that forgetfulness doesn't = death.
- Be in the moment. Those with dementia have a single point of focus, so don't dwell on "remember this" and "remember that." It may trigger unpleasant awkwardness and sense of embarrassment, and disappointment in young children. Instead talk about the here and now - the food, flowers, weather, pet, etc.
- Be accepting. Alzheimer's is not contagious, but a welcoming attitude towards those dealing with it, is. It may require some patients and that's something to talk about with the younger members of your family.
- Be curious. There's so much to learn from people with forgetfulness. They focus on one thing at a time…In fact, Alzheimer's is like a Zen teacher who reminds you to stay with the moment. It's a timely lesson for all of us, especially, during the busy holiday season.
Dr. Nader Shabahangi, a licensed psychotherapist, is a dedicated advocate for the elderly and focuses on creation of programs and environments that address physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the older population. He is a founder of Pacific Institute for Aging and has served as President and CEO of AgeSong since its formation in 1995.
In 1992, Nader established Pacific Institute, a nonprofit organization that helps the elderly enjoy meaningful and rewarding lives in the comfort of their home or in caring, therapeutic residential communities. Driven by his mission to transform the concept of eldership and improve the field of eldercare, Nader is the guiding spirit and visionary behind the founding of AgeSong.
Nader earned his doctorate degree from Stanford University, where he researched the philosophical assumptions that formed present-day psychotherapy approach.
Nader conducts frequent lectures across the San Francisco Bay Area and has presented at international conferences addressing the challenging and unique aspects of aging, mental health, and dementia.
He is the author of Faces of Aging and Deeper into the Soul: Beyond Dementia and Alzheimer's Towards Forgetfulness Care. His third book, Conversations with Ed is due out in Fall 2009. All his books challenge stereotypical views of the aging process and growing old.
For more information, visit www.agesong.com