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Past articles I have written and other things I would like to share.

The Art of Listening

posted Sep 9, 2012, 11:25 AM by Anna Hemmendinger   [ updated Aug 31, 2018, 7:01 AM ]

The role of fear and shame for people with dementia.


I have been working with people with declining states of dementia combined with other neurological conditions. I have been trying an experiment with one client, an 80 yr. old woman who is a writer, of inviting her and her female partner to call me at the moment she gets in an absolute funk, so we can see if we can leverage it out of her with a crow bar right away.


She and her partner called one morning, and she explained that it started when both of them were having their toe nails clipped by a caregiver. The first thing she said was, "Imagine, being at the state when you need someone else to cut your toe nails." A black cloud began to descend. Next she said she walked into her computer room, "and I became furious and depressed because I just can't use it any more."


I commented on the link between the two, namely, on the one hand,  the deep shame that she could no longer look after herself, not even sequencing getting ready in the morning with washing and dressing with her clothes in the right order; and, on the other hand, the sense of shame that she could not, even reading written instructions, do the steps to open her computer and look at her email, let alone her writing.


It was as if a lightbulb went off for her. When I checked in with them for our next session which happened to be later in the day, she said she felt so much calmer, and for the first time, maybe in her life, she was looking at the depression from the outside instead of letting it take over from the inside. I commented that, before God, she is more than her dressing herself  or her writing . And that maybe the task at hand was grieving these losses. She was able to call on her sense of the liminal and see herself in this bigger way.


What is most interesting in my work with people with dementia is satisfying this deep curiosity I have about whether working in the moment with someone with no short term memory is efficacious for the long haul. My experience with this woman and several other clients with whom I have worked is that, amazingly it does last, and it seems to tap into a well-spring of the unconscious not touched by dementia.  

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