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Strength in Vulnerability in the World of Dementia

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Vulnerability might as well be a four-letter word for many of us. Asking for help is taboo in our coping tool box. This might be rooted in childhood rejection.1 Somewhere along the way, asking for help may have resulted in negative experiences or responses. Much like a bird, we hide our weakness from perceived predators. Veterinarians report birds will continue to appear healthy until final hours with a bird huddled on the cage floor being close to death. Unfortunately, this adopted coping style when applied to the world of dementia may end in a crisis beyond repair.

Every memory care advisor, long-term care social worker or executive director has countless memories of dementia crises rooted in the caregiver’s inability to seek help sooner. So how do we rescript vulnerability as weakness to vulnerability as strength?

Consider a seed. An inanimate object cast into the dark soil in variable weather. Much like a care partner walking out of a neurologist’s office with the diagnosis of dementia, you might have felt competent going into the office, but going out feels dark and you may be fairly clueless on what to expect next. If you were a seed and had a good gardener, you would sprout — start to grow.

A recent study looked at the understanding of vulnerability from the perspectives of family caregivers and nurses.2 Questions asked were:

  • How do family caregivers experience vulnerability?
  • How do their experiences relate to vulnerability as understood by nurses?

What both groups shared was a variety of sentiments including conflicted feelings as well as courage, self-protection and recognition that being a caregiver was a source of development and growth. What was different for the family caregiver was feelings of shame, burden, worry and loneliness. The study concluded family caregivers need more support from society and professionals.

How can you find strength in your vulnerability? Like the seed, it may be uncomfortable, but so is staying in the dark. Reach out to the multitude of support options: memory care advisors, dementia coaches, support groups, Alzheimer’s Association, local dementia associations. Your outreach can minimize your worry and loneliness and provide you with the tending needed to grow and develop despite the diagnosis.

By-line: Cate McCarty, PhD in Gerontology, background in nursing, activities and admissions has given her a passionate commitment to quality of life for the individual and family with dementia. Cate is currently the care partner for her spouse who has early-stage dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.

References

1https://www.attachmenttraumanetwork.org/manipulation-inability-ask-help/

2Sarvimäki A, Stenbock-Hult B, Sundell E, Oesch-Börman C. The vulnerability of family caregivers in relation to vulnerability as understood by nurses. Scand J Caring Sci. 2017 Mar;31(1):112-119. doi: 10.1111/scs.12325. Epub 2016 Apr 29. PMID: 27126224.