No matter how small it seems, be grateful for something

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"Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings." - William Arthur Ward

Gratitude means thanks and appreciation. "Gratitude," which rhymes with "attitude," comes from the Latin word "gratus," which means "thankful, pleasing."

When you feel gratitude, you're pleased by what someone did for you and also pleased by the results. Unlike indebtedness, you're not anxious about having to pay it back.

Recently on NPR, there was a program about gratitude and how important it is to give and to receive it. Gratitude can change a bad day into a great day.

But what if you are a caregiver of someone with dementia and they no longer know how to thank you, to appreciate what you do for them, to be your partner, or are no longer the person you married, or the person you grew up with?

How do caregivers deal with a life where they are rarely thanked, rarely hear the words "I love you," and, in short, live with someone who is often ungrateful?

Yes, caregivers try to appreciate the fact that this is not their loved one's fault, but we are human. We need to feel that the person we have loved for years is thankful we are in their lives and taking care of them.

It is often said that people can choose to be grateful. Can we? Can we take our situation and find ways to be happier? The answer is "Yes, we can."

This is a difficult thing to accomplish alone. It helps to be with people who are experiencing similar feelings. Support groups can really help.

People in our support group recently talked about how to try to be more grateful, and they made some headway.

Gratitude is not about ignoring bad things, but about noticing that there are always some positive things in your life. Most of the women in the group said that family is what they are most grateful for.

Let's look at other ways that could help:

  • Become more optimistic. Get into the habit of being thankful for the good things no matter how small. This trains your brain to become more naturally optimistic.
  • Focus on what you do have instead of getting sucked into a negative spiral about what you don't have. Make a conscious effort to focus on the people, situations, and things that make life better.
  • Use a simple gratitude journal to reduce caregiver stress. This simple act of recording happy moments can help tremendously. Just set aside a few minutes a day to be thankful. When you are having a particularly stressful day take time to read your words.

Life as a caregiver of someone with dementia is about as difficult as it gets. You watch as your loved one's cognitive abilities diminish and the journey can be long. Don't do it alone.

Call Memory Matters or mymemorymatters.org and get the support you need. You will be grateful you did.

Karen Doughtie is senior program director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org; mymemory matters.org

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