Dementia and Death – Dealing With a Family Crisis

Last week I was asked to speak about stress at work at a company away day 

Because of a personal family crisis leading up to the talk, I changed the content at the last minute to reflect this. The timing was too perfect for such a talk so I decided to use myself as a case-study. Specifically dealing with the aftermath of dementia, how it led to a stroke, and then a pending death sentence… this case cancer. And the issues that can come with this.

The theme focused on what stress is, what causes it, and what we can do about it

I told my personal story of looking after my dad, who had not only had a stroke after looking after a partner with dementia, he was now diagnosed with cancer. He had also become increasingly forgetful, repetitive and demanding of my time, often over trivial nonsense. He has also been a fabulous dad, which is why it had been so upsetting when things do not exactly go to plan. Especially when I watch him take a turn for the worse. This sparked an interesting chain of events.

The real issue has been the avoidance of wanting to talk about his own mortality

When this happens people will often find a multitude of other things to occupy themselves with, which often leads to frustration and raised stress levels. None of us are immune given a certain set of circumstances.

Being able to stop this from escalating is more a survival skill than anything else

I talked about running a business, looking after a sick relative, and dealing with the stress that this can bring. However, this is not the reason I’m telling you this. After the talk I was approached by a lot of the attendees (which would probably have been significantly more if I had stayed longer), telling me about the stress they were having or had gone through, managing a sick family member or co-worker who was clearly demonstrating the symptoms that I described.

The outpouring of emotion, personal tragedy and some of the most challenging of circumstances were pointed out in story after story

What is clear in all of the cases is that if you do not have someone to talk to about this and are looking to manage the situation to a harmonious conclusion by yourself out of a sense of duty: this is probably not a realistic goal. Also, you will get ill eventually. Some stress is good, but experiencing it continuously on a daily basis can cloud your ability to think straight.

If you have any friends going through this, just offering an ear for them to be heard and talk things through can be the difference between getting through it, and a mental breakdown. However, this must be married with doing what is needing to be done. I saw the results not dealing with this during my nursing days all the time. However, making sense of this for others, and dealing with it myself was a very different game. This is because emotion is involved. And when we get emotional, logic is usually the first casualty.

And the solution is….

There is no perfect solution! But what I definitely do advise when you find yourself in this seemingly prison-like state of mind, you definitely need an outlet to talk about it, if only for your own sanity.

In my case, I spoke with dad after this from an authentic place, explaining how most of our interactions were unproductive to us all. Consequently, we had a very healing chat, and behaviors have changed, as well as stress levels reduced for all. In giving the talk, I knew what I had to do!

Being in a state where you could be close to a breakdown is normal. Everyone who lives to old age will get to experience this eventually. Most people well before getting old, and often more than once! Having the awareness and means to navigate your way out of it can be the difference between living and dying much sooner than is strictly necessary. So, if you are not ready to die just yet, it pays to get help.

It is not feeling mental pressure that causes illness: this happens to us all. It is how long you stay there that is the defining factor. It is this area that stress-management targets, as some people are more resilient than others. Everyone who is not an enlightened being has a degree of mental illness, often directed in negative self-talk through challenging circumstances. Accepting this, and realising that you are in the same boat as most of the population at some stage of their lives, is the key to managing your own mental health.

And for businesses who want to treat mental health at work seriously: you must be aware of this particular dynamic and encourage your employees to talk about it

Because if they don’t, the constant state of stress will first present as tiredness and weight issues, then progress to poor productivity and mood-swings, which often leads to absenteeism, or worse: presenteeism. Both will hit your organisation hard. It will likely negatively affect your entire team, and bottom line results, a lot like cancer works in the body: it spreads.

So, as an employer, be aware of mood changes in your staff because this area will usually take a bit of digging to get to the heart of it, even for an expert who knows what they are doing

If you find yourself in this place, speak to someone. If you have a good friend who is a good listener, that’s a good place to start. In the absence of this, seek professional help. The Samaritans do a great job here. There are also an array of support services that can help.

Fortunately for dad, he has definitely lived! And he has been very lucky so far. On this we were able to agree, laugh and remind each other that love can also be practical at times!

The only guarantee of life is death. It is not dying that frightens people the most: it’s realising too late that they hadn’t really lived.

But while there’s life, there’s always hope

If you don’t know what to do, contact me and I’ll point you in the right direction.

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