When You Can’t Turn Lemons Into Lemonade After decades of creating therapeutic strategies, an SLP uses these skills when her mother develops dementia. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   December 01, 2016
When You Can’t Turn Lemons Into Lemonade
Author Notes
  • Eileen Eisner, ME, CCC-SLP (Ret), has more than 45 years of experience as a clinician, school principal, special educator and supervisor of teachers. She has expertise in and has written books on children’s language-learning disorders and Alzheimer’s-related communication disorders, including “Engaging and Communication With People Who Have Dementia: Finding and Using Their Strengths.” eileen.eisner@gmail.com
    Eileen Eisner, ME, CCC-SLP (Ret), has more than 45 years of experience as a clinician, school principal, special educator and supervisor of teachers. She has expertise in and has written books on children’s language-learning disorders and Alzheimer’s-related communication disorders, including “Engaging and Communication With People Who Have Dementia: Finding and Using Their Strengths.” eileen.eisner@gmail.com×
Article Information
Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   December 01, 2016
When You Can’t Turn Lemons Into Lemonade
The ASHA Leader, December 2016, Vol. 21, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.21122016.72
The ASHA Leader, December 2016, Vol. 21, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.21122016.72
When my husband and I moved to Florida a couple of years ago, we planted a lemon tree. To our surprise, the tree grew huge, thick-skinned, heavily-seeded fruit. They look great, but can’t be used as garnish or in drinks like ordinary lemons—they’re full of huge seeds and have limited juice. So we displayed them in a bowl, replacing them when they began to rot. But then we found that rather than displaying them until they deteriorated, we actually could use them—to make our own version of Limoncello and lemon ice cubes.
This lemon scenario reminded me of a personal experience. In 1993, I was a working mom of two small children at home and two sons in college. Life was hectic, ordinary and manageable. My husband and I had three dynamic parents who were a moving force and supportive presence in our lives. Then my mother, the heart of our family, a youthful, artistic woman of 73, was diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s disease. This diagnosis was devastating to my entire family.
Was my only option to passively watch our matriarch slowly fade away? I remembered attending a lecture about man’s struggle against insurmountable odds and how people tend to use their habitual problem-solving techniques to conquer all of life’s challenges. As a speech-language pathologist and special educator, my training and experience have always served me well in creating pragmatic therapeutic strategies to unravel and correct developmental communication and learning difficulties.
So I began to search for strategies to deal with my mother’s progressive dementia, and I discovered that the deterioration of a person’s cognitive, communicative and physical being should not impede the person and their family from experiencing moments of joy. It is this confidence in the value of therapy that propelled me to discover a positive approach to the negative diagnosis of dementia.
This personal journey is the driving force behind my strength-based therapy for adults with neurological dementias. After careful study and practical experience, I discovered a wealth of opportunities that help maximize one’s quality of life. A strength-based approach emphasizes a person’s remaining competencies, not their disabilities. It accentuates what someone still can do, while cautioning against pursuing tasks that are too complex and dangerous.
I learned that people with dementia might forget what was said to them, but they tend to recall how they felt about a particular conversation or interaction. Reminding individuals of what they still can do fosters a feeling of well-being.
When you can’t make lemonade out of lemons, you need to be flexible and creative—just as we were with our oversized lemons. We once considered them unusable but now make delicious liqueur and lemon ice cubes with them. Likewise, when life gives you insurmountable challenges, be flexible. Look at new ways of engaging and interacting with loved ones with dementia. Become a conversational leader. Try to create new pleasant memories using a person’s remaining competencies, not their weaknesses. Lower your expectations and strive to create enjoyable and meaningful interactions.
When my mother’s dementia limited her ability to speak, I asked her, “Mom, did you ever think I would be an author?” She looked at me and responded, “Always!” This single word of validation, support and love will stay with me forever.
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FROM THIS ISSUE
December 2016
Volume 21, Issue 12