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April 27, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: That was then and this is now
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:「昔は昔、今は今」 /東京

When the Olympics last came to Tokyo in 1964, Japan was in the midst of its postwar growth boom. The young parents of those hopeful times have, however, become the seniors of today; the "elder care" generation, so to speak.

Members of that generation, joining the workforce as Japanese society basked in its growing wealth, took to their jobs with a vigorous, proactive attitude, building tightknit nuclear families as they went. Their lifestyles began to reflect the benefits of economic success as well, with new cars appearing in driveways and pianos in living rooms. Parents also found they had the time and money to enhance their children's education, and it was in this era that the term "kyoiku mama" (education mom) -- mothers who pushed their children to succeed academically -- was coined.

Age has imposed its various frailties on this energetic generation, dementia not least among them. Their children, of course, understand intellectually that their parents are getting old, and that dementia may lay siege to once nimble minds. Still, they find it hard if not impossible to accept this in their own "always energetic" mothers and fathers. One patient of mine, a woman in her 50s caring for a mother with dementia, admitted to me, "I could do something to her, become a 'care abuser,' if things keep on like this.

"In my neighborhood, my mother was known as an amazing 'education mom,'" the woman continued. "Now, she has to ask me everything, even what season it is. When I was a little girl, one of her favourite phrases was, 'Try looking it up yourself.' Remembering that now, when my mother depends on me for everything like a little child, I just can't find it within myself to be kind to her. I yell at her without noticing, and sometimes I find myself ready to hit her. I scare myself."

The problem isn't that the woman hates caring for her mother. Rather, she is deeply saddened and disturbed that her once super-human mom has changed so drastically. These feelings are transformed into anger, into thoughtless verbal attacks and the temptation to do violence.

I have had a number of patients in the same boat, and they always tell me something like, "I can't forget how hardworking my parents were and how good life was at home when I was young." That image of strong and loving parents persists in the minds of their children, even if these parents are now in a very different stage of life. That was then and this is now, as the old expression goes. It's quite frankly odd to pine for the days when "mom and dad could do anything." By the same token, there's also no need to wall up memories of better times because remembering them makes us sad.

Watching our parents come to need nursing care is no fun, but we must set that aside. Instead, remember the good times. Perhaps they took you to Expo Osaka 1970, and the whole family had a blast. Maybe your mother was dressed to the nines for the big outing, and oh was she a sight to behold. If we find ourselves thinking, "Yeah, but look at her now," keep that talismanic phrase "that was then and this is now" firmly in mind. Resist the comparison.

Very importantly, when it comes to caring for parents with dementia, we cannot do everything on our own. Make full use of elder care services, and don't be afraid to ask friends for help from time to time. Believe me when I say that the psychological burden must be shared.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2014年04月22日 地方版

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