Anxiety and resistance to care in dementia are common issues related to deterioration of the frontal lobe (insight and judgment) and the hippocampus (short term memory). Caregivers frequently find this lack of cooperation and anxiety more exhausting than the actual physical labor involved in providing care. It seems that no amount of encouragement or bargaining will improve cooperation at times.
In theory, it is possible to “trick” the brain into releasing chemicals that produce a feeling a well being and trust, which may in turn improve cooperation. Some of these techniques are evidential, some anecdotal. Try it for yourself and let me know if it works!
- Use a weighted blanket- there is a reason why humans hug each other. Deep pressure stimulation has been proven to have a calming effect on anxiety disorders and autism sufferers (Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University, The Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology). Prior to initiating a self care routine or to calm agitation, wrap the person in a weighted blanket for an hour. The firm pressure spread evenly all over the body promotes a feeling of safety and calm… like a giant hug. (More about therapeutic use of weight here).
- Give a 15 minute deep pressure massage to the neck and shoulders- (or any large muscle group). It is widely believed, yet evidentially unsupported, that massage and deep pressure stimulation cause the brain to release serotonin, the neurotransmitter that causes a sense of well-being. Research does show, however, that massage primes the brain to release oxytocin, which is a potent anti-anxiety neurotransmitter. The trick is getting the brain to release the oxytocin once it has been primed.
- Invoke a sense of trust- ok, so this is where you need to be creative. An interesting experiment (Paul J. Zak, June, 2008, Scientific American (www.sciam.com) “The Neurobiology of Trust.”) showed that when a person was entrusted with a stranger’s money, and then had the opportunity to return the money, oxytocin was released. There was a higher correlation between the amount of money returned and the levels of oxytocin released when the trust experiment was coupled with touch. According to Zak “So, hugs or handshakes? Either one, along with a display of trust, is likely to cause oxytocin release and increase the chances that this person will treat you like family even if you’ve just met him or her. We touch to initiate and sustain cooperation.” (Psychology Today: The Moral Molecule, 2008).
So what can you do to invoke trust in someone you know? Can you confide a secret? Or ask them to hold your wallet for you while you take the trash out? Entrust them to guard your valuables, and then gush with appreciation and gratitude about how trustworthy they are. Reward them with a neck massage. Get those brain juices flowing!