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  • Writer's pictureBy April Sage

Learn How Our Memories Shape Us

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about,” – Wendy Mass

This saying rings true as I am finishing my certification in Gerontology, the scientific study of aging, and more specifically, the psychology of aging.

It is not lost on me that we are all from different parts of the world, and generationally speaking, this is just a fraction of what sets the framework for our societal expectations. This includes life experience, thought process, belief systems, profession, and our culture’s reactions to events. Our culture dictated what was acceptable behavior at the time and shaped us from adolescence to adulthood. The trauma these past life experiences caused may not come to light until an event, such as cognitive decline or a necessary move, triggers memories of a challenging past life experience.

I have assisted many families through the transition to a more supportive environment. Triggers form in different scenarios. The emotional reaction can be short bursts of elevated aggression, intense sadness, or fright. Sometimes it can be a long-elevated response that last for hours or days. These episodes can manifest with or without an engagement of people. It may be triggered by an object, surroundings, or a seemingly innocuous event. Some details are realistic, while others seem out of this world. This PTSD level response often comes as a surprise to their loved ones.

One family thought their mother enjoyed late-night T.V. It was only as she began losing her memory that she “forgot” and shared she was afraid to fall asleep. She would stay up late because she was not sure if someone would come into her room and hurt her.

I recall a client who trusted nearly no one. She would have reoccurring nightmares, and things had to be done in a very particular manner for her to feel safe. Come to find out, her family would physically and emotionally abuse her. They withheld food and locked her in the basement. She was lovely and funny but internally tortured from her past.

There was a veteran who had flashbacks of soldiers and the enemy crouched down around his room. He would battle his visions and threaten the invisible. These figures were real to him. It was important to him to validate his experience by joining him in fighting back and threatening the figures to leave. He would not experience calm until he felt they had gone.

It takes a special place that can understand their fears and have a willingness to walk through these experiences, on a daily basis if needed. Those who witnessed abuse of an elderly family member in a nursing home rightfully have an apprehension to move into more supportive housing. Their fear of reliving their abuse, or the abuse they witnessed, can bring feelings of uncertainty about being locked away. Regulations, procedures, and the environment have changed dramatically since their prior encounter with assisted living.

Change is hard for everyone, but especially as we age. When people move, or we attempt to move them, they will look for EVERY reason not to go. The color of the paint is wrong, the carrots are too done, or not done enough, the room is too warm, or the room is too cold. While you can combat this nitpicking head on, by painting the walls and installing a thermostat in their room, understand that they will pull out every stop possible because they see it as their last chance to keep control.

This can be incredibly frustrating for family members. However, remember that it is important to meet someone where they are in the transition phase and to “speak their language” in a thoughtful and unique way. Remind them that the goal is to keep them safe so that we can enjoy them longer and they can be healthier. This is not about restricting them. It is about adding a full life with less worry. They will have help within minutes, not hours. They will have friends, experiences, and social interaction to stimulate them.

I always tell my families; I would have done anything to save my grandma from her disease. If I knew then what I know now, I would have looked high and low for the safest, most ideal place for her. While we did the best we could with the information we had, this is not a process I would wish on anyone. That's why I work with you and your family to create a customized action plan that is personally tailored to meet the unique needs of your loved ones. My mission is to provide consultative, vetted solutions that take as many personal factors into consideration as possible. I seek to give support in the most crucial times, at any age, and for any need.

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