Towards the end of a meeting with people who were caring for a loved one with dementia, I asked what advice they would give to someone who was about to begin that caregiving journey. There was silence as they thought about it, then an elderly man spoke up. ‘More than anything,’ he said, they will need patience. I used to be a very impatient person before my wife got dementia, but I’ve learnt it now, and I think it’s made me a better person.’ As I was leaving, one of the organisers who had invited me said that it was true – he used to be somewhat irascible in house-group but was much nicer these days. It’s interesting that many dementia caregivers say how the role has enriched their characters.
Feeling impatient can disturb us more than we realise. Depending on the circumstances and how high the level, it can produce stress hormones that narrow veins and produce inflammation. Hanging on the phone line waiting for customer services to respond ticks the high box, but there is also the kind of low level, nagging impatience that many are experiencing now in the Covid pandemic. When is it going to end? How long before we can be with our families, hug our grandchildren, take a break in the countryside? ‘But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience,” says Romans 8:25. And we do, we do…
.‘Don’t ask God to give you patience,’ a friend once warned me, ‘He’ll lead you through experiences where you have to learn it.’
This year, as we wait for the vaccines to roll out, we need patience more than ever. What helps us develop it? Teachers at the Fuller Theological Seminary in California asked 290 high school students to carry out different daily tasks for one week, using their non—dominant hand. Tasks that were neither impossibly demanding nor dangerous if you couldn’t manage, for example, brushing your teeth, using the phone, opening doors, switching on the lights. Then they measured changes in their levels of patience, and found they had improved, along with self-control and well-being.
Exercises like this are also recommended for a healthy brain to stave off dementia. They grow new cells and develop neurogenesis in the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for learning information, and storing memories.
Try using your non-dominant hand for every-day tasks for a while – and let me know how it works for you!