Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Book Review: Touch the Spirit: Connecting to the Inner World of Dementia

I was sent a timely book by Dr. Deborah A. Forrest. As many of us are aware, dementia symptoms touch many of us. The practical aspects of managing dementia symptoms are similar in the US or Canada. This book is a good resource for us.

TOUCH THE SPIRIT, Connecting to the Inner World of Dementia

We we must remember that the symptoms of this disorder are not the sum total of our loved ones. This is the message Forrest brings us. A clinical psychologist, it is an excellent read, and one that coincides with my point of view.

Too many state, "We're battling cancer." or "We're fighting dementia."
What is more true is that the body is breaking down and the symptoms of dementia and cancer, if fact, illness, are the signposts that guide us. Once we have a diagnosis, we are better able to deal with a treatment plan, or a health management plan. For planning, as I wrote in my review of  A Perfect Home for a Long Life, is crucial to dealing as best you can with a failing loved one. Planning ahead, once you have the facts, will make your journey one made with dignity and confidence. My last client, who passed over last month, and his family dealt with his increased dementia with humour, and loving care, to the best of their ability. They bought in to the whole reality, changed what they hoped for (life with dignity, not a cure), and my client had a good death.

Causes of Dementia

Giant puzzles for
folks with dementia 
This book outlines the "Kaleidoscope of Dementias", in fact dementia, as a symptoms, can be caused my many things:

  • normal aging; mild cognitive impairment; Alzheimer's, Lewy Bodies, Parkinson's, Huntington's Diseases; vascular dementia (TIAs, ministrokes and strokes); brain injury, brain tumours (which I wrote about in my book); HIV/AIDs,; chemotherapy, open-heart surgery.
Section two of the book covers these diseases, since it is important to understand what has caused the dementia, which helps us know what to expect and how to manage. For example, there are seven stages of dementia, it often has a predictable trajectory, and this is something a caregiver needs to understand in order to better prepare for caregiving strategies, and the type of home support or living situations someone will need. There is a section in the appendix which outlines these stages in full.

Generally, the Alzheimer's Society has hijacked much information about dementia. It is important to weed out issues specific to particular diseases. The other variables include who you are, where you live, your environment, living situation and economic situation.

Alzheimer's symptoms vary.
The stages provide a general idea of how abilities change during the course of the disease.

Stage 1: No impairment
Stage 2: Very mild decline
Stage 3: Mild decline
Stage 4: Moderate decline
Stage 5: Moderately severe decline
Stage 6: Severe decline
Stage 7: Very severe decline

With this knowledge, Forrest then takes us into the deeper spiritual life of a patient, one which needs to be met in body, mind and spirit. While many focus on physical symptoms, we can often misunderstand the spiritual side of our journey. Forrest began exploring this side of disease in Symphony of Spirits. I have found, with many clients and my father, that the essence of who they are remains. Forrest outlines some of the tools that will help you connect, reconnect, or get in touch with the spiritual and the emotional parts of your loved one, while managing the physical.

Some of the tools she suggests:

  • soul strings, music, painting, drawing, storytelling, making friends with the enemy, making heart-to-heart connections (honest conversations in which we apologise for past wrongs to forgive each other), poetry, creative cuing, safe havens, computers, animals, aromas, children, humour, flash cards, grief work, sex, and the like.
Section Five suggests physical therapies:
  • stress management, swollen ankles, foods, hormones, sleep, social circles, dental care, vitamins, exercise, diabetes prevention, vision and hearing care, memory boosters.
Massage therapy

It is not a long read, 118 pages of good reading, plus appendix, and one I would recommend to anyone who seeks to understand the reality of dementia symptoms and to find some tricks and tools that might help them.

We must not forget the complimentary therapies that helps us with ailing loved ones:
  • reflexology, massage therapy, acupuncture, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch.
Sometimes, as Forrest suggests, in Section Six: "Caregivers: Our Unsung Heroes", taking care of ourselves and taking advantage of these therapies, are just the thing we need!


In 1990, shortly after her return to graduate school for her doctorate in clinical psychology, Dr. Forrest began an association with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. That association led to her dissertation research project with Dr. Kübler-Ross’ final grief workshops before her retirement. Immediately following the completion of her doctoral degree program, Dr. Forrest completed a one year a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Kentucky’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center & Sander’s Brown Center on Aging where she continued to expand her knowledge of gerontology and the diseases of aging. She has published extensively in professional and technical journals in various fields of medicine and health, and has taught and lectured in her fields of specialization – aging, dementia and spirituality, bereavement and bone marrow cancer. 
I often read this for clients

Selected Articles by Dr. Forrest

Forrest, D.A. (2010).  Dating and sexual activity in Canadians over 50: A pioneering Frontier.
  British Columbia Psychological Association Website Blog, November 2010.
Forrest, D.A. (2005).  Spirituality and Senior Care.
  CSA Journal: Journal of the Society of Certified Senior Advisors, 28, 52.
Forrest, D.A. ( 2005).  Spirituality’s impact on a couple’s struggles with bone marrow cancer.
  Spirited Scotland, 4, 11.


Christine said...

That's a very moving poem Jenn, and good information.

DeniseinVA said...

Wonderful post Jenn, I think we all need to read this. thank you so much!

Carver said...

Very informative and interesting.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
More wonderful reading...sadly have discovered it these and the previous one are not available online to India! Will try again when I hit either OZ or Scotland.

Practical application is similar everywhere, actually; however, my live experience is that best practices are often not carried down the line. But that's a whole other issue. Thank you for bringing these to attention.

The poem is perfect. YAM xx

Kay said...

Dementia runs in our family (on my father's side) so my brother and I always worry. My mother appears to be doing well. She has been getting forgetful and I mentioned it to the doctor. She was given a test which I had to translate and found she could actually remember as well as I could... maybe, probably better.