Community highlights

The Conversation receives a lot of comments each day and you can’t read everything. That’s why we occasionally end the week with a selection of community highlights: comments we enjoyed or thought discussing.

Answering the same questions over and over: how to talk to people with dementia

Claire M O'Connor and Lee-Fay Low’s article looked at the lived experience of people with dementia and the people caring for them.

It provided some practical advice for who to approach a common problem: being asked the same questions over and over again by someone who, for no fault of their own, can’t remember the answer.

First, it’s important to stay calm. If you get upset, the person with dementia may too. Remind yourself that the person isn’t asking the questions to annoy you, but because they have a condition that causes damage to their brain.

Try to understand if there is an underlying need the person is expressing through their question. Are they anxious, worried, confused, hungry, tired?

In the comments, Elaine Langshaw shared her experience of her mother having Alzheimers:

This is such a helpful article especially for those whose loved one is the first exposure to this dreadful debilitating condition. It can be so-o-o frustrating and the tendency to answer curtly is so real after the same question over and over.

It is to my enduring shame that I knew nothing about the condition when my mother needed to go into care and we were packing up her home and moving her into residential care. Our adult relationship had never been good and I had memories of an often abusive childhood. As she was diagnosed with vascula dementia (when in care) and not Alzheimers, it never occurred to me to consult that worthy organisation for help. Had it been named the Dementia Association I would have contacted them, I found out much later they provide advice and assistance for all forms of dementia.

As I lost my temper on several occasions I could see myself turning into an ‘elder abuser’. I was resentlful of having to care for someone who didn’t care adequately for me as a child. Fortunately I had the good sense to seek counselling from a specific ‘grief and loss’ counsellor as I knew I had so many childhood issues to address. It was the very best thing I could possibly have done. The counsellor used some very effective techniques to enable me to articulate my issues and to ‘let go’ all the built up resentment I had towards my mother and then take up the role of caring for her and disposing of her acculumated possessions, which took several years as she was in care in Sydney and refused to come to my town 160 kms away.

My mother and I moved into a very loving relationship as I visited her in care and did all that was needed for her. Since that time I have had a number of other friends face the challenge of caring for a parent or a spouse with dementia and I have been able to support them with advice similar to that which is in this article. As mentioned above ‘home’ is the childhood home, not the adult home and remembering this is helpful. But never correct the statements made by the sufferer. Put yourself into their reality and it is easier to cope and also to provide the support they need. I remember one occasion when my mother told a very fanciful story of being taken out of her nursing home at night by strangers and she didn’t know where she was going. It had an element of truth as she had been taken to hospital once with an accute urinary tract infection. I didn’t correct her story, I just sympathised and said how scary that must have been. I asked her if she’d like me to talk to the staff to put on extra security at night to ensure that never happened again? “Oh, would you dear, that would be good.” Of course I didn’t do anything at all but it was reassuring for her.

My advice to anyone facing these issues: read up on the condition, contact the Alzheimers Association and also talk to your doctor who will be able to refer you to local support services.

Can you ‘teach’ workers to be more emotionally resilient?

Yvonne Brunetto published an article looking at way people could build their “psychological capital” at work and, in turn, become more resiliant:

Researchers who study these qualities refer to it as “psychological capital”, or “PsyCap”. PsyCap comprises four dimensions: 1) self-efficacy - how confident and self-assured a person is when faced with a difficult tasks; 2) optimism – how positive a person is about doing well now and in the future; 3) hope – how determined a person is to strategise and work hard towards a stated goal; and 4) resilience - the extent to which a person can bounce back from a difficult event (such as losing their job or losing a contract).

Steve Laing posted a comment discussing emotional intelligence and his time teaching it at university:

Having taught Emotional Intelligence at University, I know how valuable it would be. Of course many will scoff at this being more phsycho babble, but emotions work in a separate part of the brain to our rational selves.

Even the simple facts of understanding how our brains work can give people better mechanisms for better dealing with emotional situations. As a business owner having to sometimes deal with angry or frustrated customers (usually due to manufacturing issues with the products we retailed), being able to appropriately empathise with customer’s emotions helped diffuse the situation and then allowed the proper resolution of the problem to everyone’s satisfaction.

Without doubt, the speed at which the modern era operates makes people quick to react emotionally (before their rational brain kicks in). Road rage is an excellent example of this. Given that it is highly unlikely that we can slow down the speed of how society operates, we would be better focussing on providing people the tools to better understand, and then deal with it. I certainly know that I deal with frustration and anger much better now that I know about EI than I did before.

BTW - effective EI is not about surpressing your emotions, but being able to use them constructively, not destructively.

Women athletes are still put in second place at the Olympics – it’s time to sprint towards equality

As the Olympics rolled on, Laura Hills wrote an article about the gendered nature of the event and sport:

The gendered organisation of sport was traditionally based on beliefs about women’s inferior physical capabilities, and a sense of propriety. The structure of sports today still implies that women are less capable – though often in more subtle ways.

Women compete in the eight-event heptathlon, rather than the ten-event decathlon. In swimming, the men’s longest race is 1,500 metres, while women’s is 800 metres – a fact which has not escaped fans of US swimming superstar Katy Ledecky. And even if canoeing changes its programme for 2020, the 1,000 metre “blue ribbon” event will likely be reserved for men.

These discrepancies are better explained by sociology than physiology. We have evidence that women are capable of race-walking 50km, canoeing 100, 200 and 5,000 metres, and swimming 1,500 metres. But when women compete in the same events as men, it begins to blur the boundaries between men’s and women’s capabilities – and some people don’t like that.

Peter Lane posted a comment asking about participation rates and body types:

There are some good points here about the unequal provision of competitions in the Olympics for men and women, which I wasn’t aware of. It does seem ridiculous that men and women are not competing in the same set of sports. However, it occurs to me that this may partly be due to not many women choosing to do some sports still, and so the lack of Olympic recognition is due to the lack of potential competition.Of course, to get true equality, all sports should ignore gender altogether! But that is just ignoring genetics. To push equality further, should we have categorization by body-size (which is also genetical) for more events like Gymnastics and Swimming, similar to what happens in Boxing and Judo? I get the impression that body-size is very unequally represented in sports like this, and may make more of a difference than gender.

To which Laura Hills replied:

Hi peter - I do agree with your point on participation. For example, if Greco-Roman Wrestling was opened to women tomorrow there would be very few participants. It is difficult though, because until it is recognised there is limited funding to support athletes and they would clearly go for other sports or freestyle wrestling where they can be supported in training and have opportunities to compete regularly. I also did not discuss sports which are women only - synchronised swimming and rhythmic gymnastics and it is not clear what the demand is for these to be open to men (although I remember reading about a male training with the elite synchronised team in California quite a while ago). I like your points on body-type. Mary Jo Kane wrote an influential article on the sporting continuum which makes some points very similar to yours about size:

Kane, M. J. (1995). Resistance/transformation of the oppositional binary: exposing sport as a continuum. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 19(2), 191-218.

She suggests that if you account for size gender differences would become relatively minimal - particularly for individuals with similar levels of experience.

For more on a similar topic, read Homosexuality and the Olympic movement: towards better Games. You’ll find all of our Olympic coverage here.

The ‘no’ campaign on marriage equality owes us better arguments

Patrick Stokes published a column looking at the arguments for and against marriage equality, arguing that the “no” campaign needs to provide a more robust rationale:

The ‘no’ campaign has a right to prosecute its case (though not, as I’ve previously argued here, in a way that violates norms against vilification). But doing so brings with it a responsibility to be honest with the public about what they’re really arguing. Now would be a good time for them to start.

This kicked off a lot of discussion in our comments, most of which Patrick was involved in. Here are a few samples.

Meron Wondemaghen asked if there was a comparison to be made between the push for a 50:50 ration between men and women in business and the need for a mother and father in parenting:

Patrick, what would you say to those who may compare arguments for a (more or less) 50:50 men/women ratio in business or politics because ‘women bring a different perspective’ (paraphrasing here), to the need for a mother and father in the upbringing of a child? In other words, if we’re saying we need an approx. equal number of male and female perspectives in business, politics and elsewhere, why not in parenting? This was brought up in Q&A once by a ‘no’ campaigner but was not addressed.

Patrick Stokes:

Hi Meron,

Great question, to which I’d have to say: the argument for 50:50 ratios on the basis that ‘women bring a different perspective’ is a terrible argument for doing something we should be doing for other reasons. I can see why people use claims like that as a sort of appeal to the self-interest of decision makers (though it’s limited - if ‘a different perspective’ is all that’s needed presumably you could achieve that with way less than 50:50!). The point of 50:50 ratios is to get more women into positions of power to address existing asymmetric distributions of power. That imperative doesn’t really seem to transfer into the domain of parenting, though it’d be interesting to see someone try to make that argument.

Colin Contessa asked for clarification about a term used in the article:

Patrick, you have a paragraph in your article;

“That’s a view with a long and rich history. It’s also one that has no place determining policy in a genuinely secular society that rightly excludes revelation claims from public ethics”.

Can you explain what you mean by “revelation claims”?

I could say, for example, that historical documents make a very good case for the a “revelation claim” that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and so have every good reason to put forth a case that God exists and this God has provided an ethics framework to guide those he created.

How would you respond to this argument?

Patrick Stokes:

Hi Colin,

Broadly, I take ‘revelation claim’ to mean any claim that could not be credible to someone who wasn’t antecedently committed to the authority of a particular revelation-event.

One could certainly try to demonstrate that a Galilean religious teacher named Yeshua lived in first century Judea and did some/many/all of the things described in the New Testament. In fact the historical record is too thin to support such a claim (even the relevant bit in Josephus is full of later Christian interpolation), but for the sake of argument. imagine if a new set of contemporary records turned up. But would that prove the further proposition that this man was the Son of God? How? What sort of ‘proof’ could be adduced for such a claim? It’s not simply a question of the quality of the evidence here, but of how we could ever prove that sort of claim at all. Hence the significance of faith. As someone who works professionally on Kierkegaard I have a great deal of respect for faith as a human phenomenon, but I don’t think it provides an acceptable basis for determining public policy in a secular, pluralist society.

On the other hand, some things that look like revelation claims may in fact be credible to people who don’t accept the authority of the revelation-event. For instance, as K.E. Løgstrup (who I also work on) puts it, the moral force of the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t depend on the fact it’s Jesus speaking: what’s presented there might just be a good articulation of the structure of moral reality, and one can believe that to be the case without believing that Jesus speaks with any divine authority. So the issue is not ‘does this claim come from a religious tradition?’ but ‘does this claim stand up to scrutiny without falling back on divine authority?’

There are 257 comments on the article and, as such, a lot of discussions sharing a range of viewpoints and discussions. Head over and have a read.