How Affection and Connection Affect Our Brains and Elder Care

July 9, 2009 at 10:50 pm 1 comment

Oprah had a show today on childhood abuse and neglect. It was heartbreaking to see that even our brains are affected by a lack of touch and conversation. I believe the same thing can happen to our elders, many of whom spend hours and hours alone or with little human interaction. It’s not that caregivers don’t try, but sometimes because of Alzheimer’s, dementia, Lewy Body, ALS or other neurological diseases, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting through–and it’s easy to give up.

The child psychologist featured on the program showed MRIs of the brain and how it had simply not developed–it had huge gaps where it should have been filled in with brain matter. He explained that our brains are sponges and they absorb whatever stimulus we provide. Without stimulus–music, art, nature, or human interaction, the brain just goes idle. If you’ve ever seen a “brain on Alzheimer’s,” you know that it sounds eerily similar–it’s shrinking and pulling away from itself.

We can’t forget how much our elders need to be touched and talked to–even when they can’t offer it back.

There were days when my mother, who had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, felt completely unreachable. I was fortunate that it was months, not years that she was unable to communicate, and my heart aches for families who face this. I continued to carry on a conversation, to offer food, to try to do things that comforted her, but I felt so helpless. That’s what caregivers say is the worst part of caring for those they love–when you can’t relieve their pain and when you can’t reach them.

I did find that my mother responded to music. My mother played several instruments and played in church for years. Whenever she seemed down, I’d go to piano and start a song and before long, she’d come over and start to play. Even after she could no longer play, her face would light up when I played the piano or put on music she recognized.

Music therapy is well documented. It can soothe us and calm our nerves, it can bring back memories of younger days, it can spar us to exercise and delight us to dance. What a powerful medium to reach not only the heart–but the mind. Neurologists have studied the effects of music on the brain.

I hope you’ll explore whatever medium your mom or dad or spouse responds to–for some, it’s the smell of home cooked meals or roses, for others, it’s more tactile–some people like to hold a knobby blanket or play in a bowl of grits. Studies have shown that the art you loved as a young person is the art you’ll still be drawn to in your golden years. Look back at your loved one’s life and find what they like. It’s great way to reach them again.

There’s nothing like seeing their face light up with recognition. It’s your brain–on love.

Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jacy  |  August 4, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    The Assisted Living Federation of America recognizes Heroes found in senior living communities across the country, from executive directors, staff members, nurses, caregivers, and volunteers… On, you can watch some exceptional, heartwarming stories about the impact that these employees had on their residents, sometimes simply by just showing respect and attention. I hope you enjoy. Very nice blog!


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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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