Many criticize the Trump White House as disorganized. Trump Land is already using the following color coding scheme they seem to have developed; they should make it public so that the public can see how they treat their friends and not-friends.
There are many kinds of dementia, but in many types, one huge change is that you lose partially or fully the ability control your facial expression, body posture, and other physical movements that indicate to another person how you feel, how attentive you are, sudden joy, fear, and especially empathy.
Since my diagnosis of FTD (and several years before that), I have heard statements like these from strangers, friends, and family members. Many people think I am angry, disinterested, or not listening to them.
“You never smile.”
“We’re waiting for you not to frown so we can take the selfie.”
“You don’t care what I think, all you do is look at me with a smirk on your face.”
Well, most of the time I am happy and/or neutral although I am sometimes depressed to varying degrees. I am usually interested in what most people are saying. Sometimes I have to break into conversations multiple times to say that I am confused. That confusion is, for me, more likely to indicate that I cannot decode your words because I am losing language skills, not because I was not paying attention to you. I slouch a lot, I often walk looking directly down because I easily trip over over cracks in the pavement and that sometimes leads to falls (I am currently typing using my left thumb on the spacebar because I broke my right thumb in a fall a month ago).
You cannot judge how I am feeling physically or mentally by looking at me unless you are part of my core family and see me very often and sometimes not even then.
Much of how we feel about people is based on their nonverbal gestures and facial expressions. Somebody like me who can barely smile gives people the impression they don’t like what is being said or are annoyed or distracted.
Most people infer negative things from my posture and face and staring that are simply not true.
This is probably a huge factor in how miscommunications often occur among persons with dementia and those they interact with. Even people who interact with me regularly and know my medical problems often misinterpret me.
The following mind model shows some issues in communicating with persons with dementia and possibly misinterpreting what they are thinking and feeling because they look at you with unintended disinterest, never smile, and look distracted. People have often misinterpreted my attempt to smile as smirking.
And if you are a person with dementia, look at yourself in the mirror or in recent photographs and see if you can make some improvements in facial expressions and posture. And if not, when you talking to people, especially friends and family, remind them that you not in complete control of your facial expressions and that sometimes when you think you are smiling or even grinning, the other person just sees a blank face. You can also make a joke out of the situation.
A phrase you have heard thousands of times (especially if you have lived in California as I did for 30 years). If you have dementia you may groan or the statement may make you angry or you might make a pointed comment back.
Chill, Dudes and Dudettes.
OK, I get it (well actually have gotten it for a number of years since diagnosis). There may not be a 100% good day for you anymore if you have dementia. But how about a perfect (or even good) 20 minutes having coffee with a friend or an hour solving a puzzle with a grandchild or 100 minutes watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 complete with a refillable tub of popcorn. Yup, these periods of a good day may be followed by a period of frustration or not being able to remember something or difficulty doing a task of daily living.
Use the Force, Luke.
Good moments can be great moments if you let them be. They may last only for few minutes or an afternoon, but given that your brain is “sick” they are a huge gift and blessing. Focus on what is happening to you now, try to not let the bad upset you unduly, and try to enjoy every moment for every second possible.
You may master the Force. You may feel better. Is there a better use of your time?
Focus on what is, not what was.
Click the image of the mind model (mind map) to expand it.
When I try to more than I can, I often get myself into trouble. You should try to do as much as you can but never at the expense of your family, caregivers, friends, and healthcare providers. Elite athletes call this “staying within yourself” while I call it plain common sense. At any rate, your experience of dementia can be made much better by staying within your CURRENT limits, not those of prior times before you started cognitive decline.
Nothing in this blog post is intended as medical or psychological advice. Should you wish to understand the issues in cognitive training as they pertain to you, consult with your doctor, psychologist, or another licensed healthcare provider. I am neither suggesting that you use cognitive (brain) training or alternate methods of thinking although I have made such a choice for myself. The intent of this post is that you understand the issues with these methods should you be making a choice.
In the past three decades, methods of cognitive training have been developed by many companies. Services are offered by online companies, individual healthcare professionals, and some psychological testing companies.
The developers-owners of cognitive training methods make many claims about how these methods can improve or maintain GENERAL cognitive (brain) functioning for typical adults, those starting cognitive decline, and those entering the faster decline of dementia.
In most cases, costs associated with receiving cognitive training — especially under the supervision of a licensed professional — can be quite high.
As the term is used, cognitive training consists of repeatedly taking cognitive tests developed usually in psychology research studies and typically presented on a computer. Look at a complex picture flashed on the screen rapidly and say where a selected object (thing, person) was shown on the screen. Look for sequences of numbers and letters. Ignore distracting stimuli when looking at the computer screen. In many cases, these tests look like “old time” computer games like Tetris.
These cognitive training procedures are supposed to make you better at thinking by training your brain in certain types of ways that then improve the ability to do a very general and large set of tasks in attention, judgment, planning, and other cognitive processes. It is assumed that learning to perform well ON THESE SPECIFIC TASKS will help you think better in a general way. Unfortunately, it appears after decades of studying cognitive training, it is found that the training on a test will help you get somewhat (and it is a small somewhat) better at taking THAT TEST ONLY and not in similar cognitive tasks more related to day-to-day activities. Yes, you might get better at identifying flashing letters when they appear on the screen, but there is little, if any, replicable evidence that becoming good at the test generalizes into being good at exercising attention in real world situations.
Just what you always think when you think about psychology. Psychologists study “dumb” tasks that look little like real world situations and then claim that getting good at those tasks will change your life. You usually laughed when you read this stuff in news outlet stories. Nonetheless, cognitive training continues to sell and expand and advertise. Money can be made selling cognitive training to individuals concerned with their current and future ability to think well and remember and maintain independence. Many claims are made that the methods work and the glossy, high-priced advertising is convincing, but the statistics are not. And yes, the companies that sell cognitive testing products claim that the training works if THEY conduct the experiments and evaluate their own products. However, ongoing INDEPENDENT RESEARCH suggests this is NOT the case.
Did you really expect the ethics of cognitive training companies to exceed those of pharmaceutical companies? The false claims to be less? Big money, big pressure to prove that these things work.
Independent psychologists who evaluate the effectiveness of programs and assertions of others do not find much if any, effect of cognitive training on improving general cognitive functioning, thinking, and performance in real-life situations faced by aging adults.
The most important INDEPENDENT EVALUATION appears in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science of which I am a Fellow. APS is one of the two major psychological associations in the USA and designation as a Fellow comes only after a thorough peer evaluation of competence.
Click here to see a short summary of the research that examines all of the research over several decades on cognitive training. The full report is 83 pages. I still understand most of the mumbo-jumbo in the full report. You will have to pay to purchase the full report if you are not a member of APS. My judgment is that the summary is very accurate in presenting the results of this research through what is called a meta-analysis and I doubt that most people need read more than the 1-page summary.
OK then, so cognitive training probably will not turn out to be the big fix for what ails your thinking as you age or you have a neurodegenerative (neurological) disease. Maybe improvements will be made in future decades but right now the effects appear to be tiny at best.
What’s the alternative?
I have argued for a number years that learning alternate ways of thinking and expanding the types of information your brain can effectively process can be very useful throughout your life. While learning such strategies in childhood is best, you can keep learning new ways to think up until the day you die and expect to get some significant return for your work.
What kinds of activities have been shown to increase brain function? Learning additional languages, studying a musical instrument, learning math, creating art or stories, and many others to which we all have access, typically with a minimum expense. These are real-world activities and many are a lot of fun.
As I progressed through cognitive decline and dementia I have come to believe that learning what are called visual thinking methods — arranging information into pictures that organize major ideas and show the “big picture” — can help you in many ways I have documented throughout this blog (Hubaisms.com). Of course, my findings are based only my own observations of myself and not on formal studies. I note, however, that sometimes observations are better sources of information than research studies, especially from individuals touting products they have invested millions of dollars in developing.
I think that the fuzzy research on cognitive training and the fact that mind mapping is seen as effective at most Fortune 500 corporations, many universities worldwide and by millions of users worldwide at this time suggests that learning alternate WAYS TO THINK probably is much more effective than cognitive training (akin to playing a 1980s computer game).
My suggestion is that if you are concerned that your ability to think will decline or you are already experiencing cognitive decline, you take some time (1-8 hours will help you evaluate this) and determine if visual thinking is useful for you. You can read my work on this blog or work created by Buzan when he popularized mind mapping in business and education or look at many other authors who write on this topic such as Nast. Major summaries and videos are available online. If you would like to see someone with dementia use mind mapping, you can click here to watch a number of short videos of my mind mapping process in a new window.
Alternate visual thinking methods that I find useful are SKETCHNOTES, doodles, cartoons, and graphs.
You can try mind maps, sketchnotes, doodles, cartoons, and graphics with a few pencils or pens you already own and a piece of paper (A4 or 8.5×11 in landscape mode).
Later you can buy computer apps to make the visual thinking look better if you want but you need not do so.
Look at the image below to show the way I think about the information in this post visually using a mind map.
If you want me to understand something or remember it, DRAW ME A PICTURE. I’m a lot smarter than you might think if you just talk to me. Oh, and you need not be artistic at all to use the techniques in visual thinking so don’t use the excuse that you have no “talent.”