by Breeda Miller
Cultivating Mental Agility is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Daily life is about solving problems. Sometimes they are good problems – where to go/what to have for dinner. And sometimes they are devastating problems – like finding a way to handle your parent’s dementia diagnosis.
Less Stress, more creativity
In the simplest of terms, Mental Agility means being flexible and adaptive to your current situation. I believe that developing Mental Agility allows you to enjoy life with less stress and more creativity. You become more resourceful. Your options become greater and your limits become fewer.
In the olden days (before caller ID) every time the phone rang it was an improvisational moment. You didn’t know who was calling and didn’t have the luxury of “letting it go to voice mail” to better prepare your response. Every time you picked up the phone you had no idea who was on the other end.
Everyday at the Improv
Caring for a person living with dementia is sort of like that. Every day is a Day at the Improv. What worked yesterday liked won’t work today. What they said or did yesterday will have no bearing on their reality today. If you insist on bringing them to your reality you will experience frustration on an epic level. If you have a list of rules and activities that must be adhered to you will feel like an utter failure. You will feel exhausted and irritated constantly.
The unglamorous journey
I’ve learned that the happiest travelers embrace the art of flexibility, or mental agility. Weather happens. Museums close. ATMs break. Luggage gets lost. Trains are delayed. Savvy travelers always have a Plan B ready to go. An alternate route or place to go or thing to do. And so it is with successful caregivers, they are able to navigate the daily changes with grace rather than agitation.
Be like Gumby
As long as everybody is safe, who cares what shirt Dad wants to wear (again) or who Mom thinks you are? Play along, be flexible. Find ways to be creative through music or looking at old photographs or playing a simple game like balloon volleyball. If you can find ways to use humor and relax with the constant changes in life, rather than live via a rigid checklist of activities and behaviors, you will find yourself in a much better place. Space where your mental agility allows you to flex and lean into the current situation rather than stand rigidly unyielding. It’s not the way it’s “supposed to be”. But is it the way that it is. Channel your inner Gumby. Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape.
You might as well enjoy the trip
I am not suggesting that you compromise your values or your integrity. I am suggesting that you might lower your standards when it comes to some daily tasks and find ways to think of disruptions to your plan as opportunities to explore new places and try new things. You might find yourself having a better trip then you could ever have imagined. Ultimately, the train will pull into the station. It’s up to you what your mindset will be at the end of your journey.