The Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

This seems like such a no brainer rule of life. Sadly, imperfect human beings that we are, none of us always treats others as kindly as we wish to be treated.

I had the extremely good fortune to hear Melanie Bunn, RN, MS, GNP, speak this weekend at the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) Southeast chapter meeting. Melanie is an Alzheimer’s training consultant, working with the Alzheimer’s Association, Eastern North Carolina chapter for over 20 years. She has provided primary care to older people in a variety of settings including retirement homes, long term care nursing, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and in the home in positions including gerontological nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist and staff nurse.  Simply stated, if you have experienced the challenges of living with a loved one with dementia, Melanie has walked more than a mile in your moccasins.

Melanie engaged our audience of about 40 care managers with stories and experiences from the dementia patient’s perspective. Through hands-on exercises (we each picked a partner at our tables) we closed our eyes and imagined life through the lens of someone living with dementia. We experienced what it’s like to be caught up in happy memories one moment and in the next, startled by an unexpected touch on the shoulder, surprised by an unanticipated face in our personal space, or left shaken by an uninvited stern command. Melanie showed us how easy it is to create a hostile space and to pick a fight with someone living with dementia, albeit it unintentionally. 

Simple gestures and thoughtful words are much more likely to elicit a positive response from your loved one. As Melanie stated so matter of factly, we know how to treat someone with heart problems. We would never ask someone in congestive heart failure to climb three flights of steps; why then do we ask so much of someone with a dying brain?

I learned a few simple rules from Melanie that I want to share:

  • approach the person from the front rather than from behind or to the side
  • provide simple instructions, one step at a time – this advice really struck home with me. How many times have I “walked and talked” with my loved one only to get frustrated when he/she stops walking to respond to me?!
  • reduce distractions
  • agree instead of arguing
  • think about what may be the reasons for inappropriate behavior – is he/she touching because that’s the only way to communicate; is he/she speaking loudly or argumentatively because of pain or illness?
  • take your time – I mean really, who likes to be rushed, with or without dementia!
  • be gentle; be kind

 Sadly, it is quite likely that Alzheimer’s will affect someone you care about.

November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month.

I close with a letter from the Alice Watkins, Executive Director, Alzheimers NC.

Letter to Families and Supporters

“Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that robs millions of individuals and their families of the past, present, and future.  It slowly steals one’s intellect, ability to communicate, independence, and dignity – even control over basic bodily functions like eating and caring for personal hygeine. It also places an overwhelming burden on caregivers – emotionally, physically, and financially. The economic impact of Alzheimer’s is staggering. The cost of care in the U.S. is projected to increase from $200 billion in 2012 to $1.1 trillion in 2050.

Researchers tell us with the necessary investment and reforms, we can stop Alzheimer’s in the next decade. But some in Washington still don’t get it. Congress is threatening massive cuts that only months ago everyone said would never happen. They’re reversing course and putting groundbreaking Alzheimer’s research at risk.

Last fall, we succeeded in delaying these drastic cuts. Now, to stop them once and for all, we have to raise our voices louder than ever.

Join AlzNC, US Against Alzheimer’s and other organizations by asking your members of Congress to work out a deal that protects critical research funding. Keep the pressure on now, before any deal is made.

Thank you,
Alice Watkins 
Executive Director”






4 thoughts on “The Golden Rule

  1. Been there twice already…with my maternal grandmother and her son, my uncle. A personal finding: having a sense of humor about all of it is important, whether you are a primary caregiver or part of an extended support team. Also, I recall reading (more than once) that the #1 fear of the significantly aged, is of not being touched. I’d consider adding that to the above list. Helpful post. Thank you.

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