As cheesy as this sounds, there are many tangible as well as intangible benefits of smiling. As caregivers, our feelings and emotions are very often relayed to those we are caring for. If we are feeling anxious, angry or frustrated, subconsciously that is communicated to Mom. This will increase her own frustrations and anxieties, or reduce her previously good mood without knowing why. But if you are able to set these things aside and choose to be in a better mood for Mom, your smile will convey happiness and security. Even when we don’t feel like smiling, choosing a smile, produces the release of endorphins from the brain. This thought to be caused by the position of the facial muscles and the brain can tell the difference between a fake and real smile and releases the endorphins anyway. This also suppresses the release of cortisol or the stress hormone.
Making it a habit to smile with each interaction, will very often produce a smile in the one you are caring for and then you both get the benefits of a smile which include:
This is especially helpful as mom gets older or if her memory is becoming an issue. With a decline in cognitive function, it becomes much harder to process information quickly. Because she recognizes her child, she will immediately look to you to determine if everything is OK or if she needs to be ready for a “fight or flight” scenario. The initial, calming smile you give, will go a long way to help her feel at ease.
If you are not the primary caregiver or are entering a new situation for the first time, it will take more than just an initial smile to see the benefits. When you are new, nearly constant and genuine smiles may be necessary. You often may have to explain who you are every so often and give details that reassure them they are in safe hands. “Mrs. Smith, I am here to assist you while your daughter Carol is at work. We spoke to her this morning and she will be calling at lunch to check on us.” In time, hopefully Ms. Smith will recognize you and this will not be needed nearly as often.
There is a lady, we will call her Pearl (not her real name) who lived in a nursing home. She was in late stage 5 of dementia. She was walking and talking, but often would experience sundowning and become increasingly agitated, confused and anxious. She did not need physical therapy when I met her. Even so, I made it a point to say “Hello Pearl,” look her in the eye and smile every time I passed her in the hallway. After about 2 weeks (and about 30 repetitions of this) I heard her tell a friend that “me and him are kin.” While that is not an accurate statement, it does show the bond that we had formed with the simple repetition of a smile and acknowledgement. When she did eventually have a fall and require PT services, I had much less trouble than other staff who had not previously formed this bond. She would follow directions, participated well with me and was able to get back to her normal routine relatively quickly.
Your smile should be your first tool out of the bag and most used tool as a caregiver. Costs nothing and the benefits are priceless!
That’s all for today.
Take care, be safe and have a great day!