Validation Training Institute

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Separation Anxiety

I read recently that there is a sharp rise in demand for services by pet trainers to help COVID puppies cope with separation anxiety as their owners leave the house more often. Suddenly the reassuring sounds of a busy home and the frequent opportunities for treats and cuddles are diminishing as their loved ones are  turning their attention to  summer activities without them. The puppies are agitated because the routines they have lived are being uprooted and they have no way of asking why.  Because of new guidelines issued by the Center from Disease Control in the US at the end of May, most states  lifted their COVID restrictions in public places by the beginning of June, enabling vaccinated people to freely socialize, gather in restaurants and bars, and go to stores, sporting events and cultural venues without requirements of wearing masks, observing limited capacity, or maintaining social distancing unless specifically required by the venue.  At the end of May, the US economy hit its lowest rate of unemployment since the pandemic began, as more people returned to work. Right now there are more jobs being posted than there are takers. One reason is that many people  are only looking for remote work and still not eager to leave their homes and children to work on site. Once the schools reopen in Fall and more people are vaccinated, even more people will be away from home working and studying, whether they like it or not. Normal pre-pandemic routines will slowly return.

The flip side is re-entry anxiety, especially for those who are vaccinated facing a world of some vaccinated and others not. How do you react to people once you can now gather again? Let’s start with loved ones.  Are you now willing to take  multi-stop flights to see distant family or attend a big wedding or funeral? Will you babysit for grandchildren regularly? Now let’s turn to familiar people.  How about schmoozing with co-workers at lunch meetings ? Will you welcome neighbors inside your home? Make social dates with friends? Attend religious services in person? Then there are all the people you don’t know around you. Are you less than eager to sit elbow to elbow with strangers at a movie theater or indoor concert?  Will you still wear a mask around people you don’t know? This week we started to see the slow process of unmasking begin. For the first time I saw the unfamiliar smiling face of my hairstylist who I have only known since last summer.  I streamed a live funeral yesterday with curiosity to see the pews filled with actual mourners. I sat at the ballpark one night surrounded by other fans. Like many others, I keep doing the mental math and know that more than half the people in my state have not yet received even one dose of vaccine, so the coast is not clear among strangers. Mask or no mask? Keep your distance? Shake hands with a new acquaintance?  Who do you hug and for how long?

The lifting of COVID restrictions in the US applies to all public venues but specifically excludes nursing homes and care communities. Those residents have faced separation anxiety throughout the pandemic as they continue to relive the loss of their loved ones, past and present. For them, there may be no end in sight. I have heard mixed reports from people who have recently traveled to see their aging parents in memory care communities for the first time since the pandemic lockdowns. One woman told me her mother’s dementia is so advanced that she remained cheerful and content throughout the pandemic, especially since she preferred to be by herself. Others have noted increased agitation and reports of unwillingness to comply with rules they don’t understand. It is particularly difficult for people who moved in during the pandemic. The care staff is tired and depleted. Postings for new positions are going unfilled. The COVID puppies are not the only ones made uneasy by shifting routines and less attention.

Please use the Validation Training Institute Caregiver – Self Care videos to find your way to a moment of peace. If you are a caregiver of any kind, learn the simple Validation skills to help connect, communicate and combat isolation.

The Validation Training Institute (VTI) is a non-profit organization that advances knowledge, values, education and research rooted in the Validation method. The objective is to nurture respect, dignity and well-being in the lives of older adults experiencing age-related cognitive decline and their caregivers. Our vision for the future is that every older adult experiencing age-related cognitive decline, and their caregiver, can feel the joy and love of meaningful communication.

By: Fran Bulloff, VTI Board President