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Bringing gossips back to caregiving

Highlighting the importance of gossips in caregiving

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It is common for animals to develop warning sound about dangers, predators, or food resources. In the book Sapien [1], Yuval Harari proposed that our unique ability to gossip elevated us humans to the top of the food chain. Gossip brings doubts, independence, schadenfreude, and creativity, which allows human to build social bonds and more sophisticated connections between each other well beyond other animals.

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the social bonds between caregivers and their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease are compromised. The individuals start to have difficulties living alone with issues such as taking pills on time, eating properly or sleeping properly, all of which can be detrimental to their lives [2]. The naturally evolved gossiping conversations start to spiral into the caregiver’s warning, reminding, and pestering about dangers in the individuals with Alzheimer’s diseases. 

Through a series of hackathons and other competitions, my team has been trying to validate the need for this type of social connection between the caregivers and their loved ones. Through our interviews with one family caregiver, we saw a glimpse of what conversations are like between herself and her mother who is living with mid-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Our interviewee would always ask about whether her mother took her pills and her mother would often lie about it, even to the extent of hiding her pills. She voiced their frustration on the tedious daily routine of check-ups, to which were often met with snappy or sometimes rude comments from her mother. Our interviewee feels that her efforts are wasted, taken for granted, and unvalued. She desires normal conversation with her mother, not interrogations. She believes that her mother would like the same.

More than 1 in 3 caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from depression due to sadness, isolation, and stress [3, 4]. Daily joyful gossiping conversations desired in our genes are replaced by cold interrogations. Once families stop talking about feelings, emotions, opinions, and relationships but start repeatedly asking questions, inquiring, and commanding, the bonds between people via gossip through our long history start to demolish. To restore these bonds, the families with Alzheimer’s disease patients need to be free of daily check-up routines. We believe that bringing back gossips to caregiving is the first step of reducing the negative consequences of caregiving.

[1] Harari, Yuval N., and Derek Perkins. Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. London: Harvill Secker, 2014.

[2] http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-stages-behaviors.asp 

[3] Levine, Carol. "Depression in caregivers of patients with dementia." Journal of general internal medicine 18.12 (2003): 1058-1059.

[4] https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-caregiver-depression.asp

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Meaningful caregiving starts with menial conversations.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a PHD student in computer and biomedical engineering developing technology to assist in characterising neuropsychological diseases.

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Photo of Jonathan Chung

Hi All,

Molly Oberholtzer Thanks for your comment! To clarify, I was using the term "gossip" as "social engagement with someone very close" not as "talking about personal affairs of others behind their backs". So I believe it could be interpreted as chit-chat or small talk. Sorry for the confusion! That being said, we are trying to stress the importance of gossip (or chit-chat or small talk) to create a healthy relationship. One possible way to encourage this type of conversation is to reduce the need for giving warnings to the individual with Alzheimer's disease.

Kate Rushton Thanks for your suggestion. I put an image to go along with it. As for how to encourage conversations, I hinted in my answer to Molly and it should become apparent when we present our idea.

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