questions

20 Questions for Better Care

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Isn’t it funny how we sometimes we walk through life without pausing to ask ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing? We march through our days robotically, repeating our routines and possibly making the same mindless mistakes without a second thought.

I’ve learned it’s useful to stop and ask myself if there might be a better way. Asking questions is one of the basic techniques used in most “helping” professions. Life coaches, business coaches, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, doctors, and others constantly ask questions. Why? Because questions are useful tools; they help us to:

  1. Discover new information
  2. Diagnose problems
  3. Think more clearly
  4. Generate ideas
  5. Explore possibilities
  6. See new perspectives
  7. Reveal patterns
  8. Provoke reflection
  9. Encourage conversation
  10. Stimulate participation

As a dementia care coach and care partner, I use a technique I call “20 questions” to help others better understand themselves, the people they care for, and the process they’re in. Anyone can use 20 questions to gain insight into any challenge or issue. All you need is a pencil and paper, or your favourite word processing package, your imagination and a topic. The rest is simple:

  1. Put your topic at the top of the page
  2. Brainstorm questions related to it
  3. Write or type the questions on the page
  4. Do not edit yourself; write whatever comes to mind
  5. Don’t worry is some questions are similar or if you repeat
  6. Keep going until you run out of questions
  7. Do not try to answer the questions
  8. Leave the questions to percolate for an hour, a day, a week or a month
  9. When you feel ready, review the questions
  10. Be open to the answers, ideas and solutions that emerge

Here are a couple of examples of dementia care issues I’ve delved into more deeply using 20 questions.

Blow ups

It happens to everyone at one time or another: we lose our temper with someone we love, we say things we don’t mean in the heat of the moment, and we’re wracked by guilt afterward. Here are my the first three questions (the other 17 are here):

  1.  Are you doing your best? If you are truly not doing your best, how could you do better? Are you trying to do too much? Are you stretched too thin? Do you have enough support?
  2. Do you expect other people never to lose their patience and/or get angry? If you do, is that a realistic expectation and are others always able to achieve it?
  3. Are you sorry? Is there an opportunity to say you’re sorry? Have you taken it? (Hint: if you haven’t, try it now. Find seven specific ways to phrase it here.)

Dementia anxiety and aggression

I have learned through personal experience, reading and research that people with dementia (PWD) behave in logical, natural and understandable ways to stressful situations – just like most of the rest of us do. But there’s still a whole world of misunderstanding among family caregivers and professional care workers about behavioural expressions in people with dementia. I built this list: 20 questions that help explain why people with dementia get agitated and physically aggressive; here are three of the questions:

  1. What would you do if you wanted to escape, but all the doors were locked and you didn’t have a key? What would you do if you weren’t allowed out – ever?
  2. What would you do if a stranger tried to take something that belonged to you? What if they managed to get it and they wouldn’t give it back?
  3. What if you said you didn’t want to have a bath but people took your clothes off anyway and then they forced you into the bath and told you to calm down and be quiet?

What 20 questions can you come up with the help address your caregiving challenges?

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About the Author

Susan Macaulay

Susan Macaulay is a better dementia care advocate, activist, blogger, speaker and facilitator. She provides training to informal care partners and paid care workers in highly interactive, engaging, hands-on workshops. From 2006 to 2016, she was the primary care partner for her mother who lived with Alzheimer disease. Susan is a proponent of biopsychosocial models of care, and believes in fundamentally changing the way we deliver eldercare in Canada. Beside blogging for TCN, she has her own blog at MyAlzheimersStory.com.

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