Friday, July 22, 2016

The Inner Critic

As my regular readers will know, this summer I’ve been spending time with my mother who has dementia.  For my own mental health, I’ve been taking time once or twice a day to go for a walk, with the aim of walking 10,000 steps each day (which also fits in with our new theme next year at school, the Year of Movement).  During this time I’ve been listening to the mindfulness meditation app Buddhify.  A couple of these have really struck a chord with me, especially the meditation that deals with the Inner Critic.

We can all suffer from that voice in our head that tells us we are not good enough.   I have spent many weeks with this voice, constantly asking myself what is the best thing to do to meet Mum’s needs.  The meditations have helped me to appreciate that I shouldn’t fight these negative emotions because adding more struggle to the negative never tends to end well.

For the last couple of days I’ve been trying to do as the meditations suggest – to acknowledge the inner critic by naming the emotion.  As I’ve heard, over and over again, naming the demon allows the hero to gain the upper hand.  The meditations have guided me to actually say hello to the critical thoughts that emerge in my head while I’m out walking.  These are examples of some of my most common emotions:

I’m not good enough – hello judgment
I’m not doing this right – hello doubt
Why did I do that? – hello blame
I shouldn’t have done that – hello guilt

We are told in these meditations that emotions are simply thoughts with a lot of energy behind them, and that by naming the emotions we externalise them, and see them as separate from ourselves.  And what I love as well is the metaphor shared in one of the meditations about the sky and the clouds: 
Whatever clouds pass through the sky, whether stormy or clear, the sky does not change.  It is just a container for the clouds and the weather as they stick around for a bit and then pass on by.  The sky unchanged by the things within it.  The sky knows the weather very well indeed but it also knows that it is not the weather, it is the sky. 

So this is worth hanging on to – my mind is like the sky – negative thoughts and emotions pass through, but the person I am remains, and does not get changed by them.

Photo Credit: rkramer62 via Compfight cc

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Can virtual and augmented reality transform living with dementia?

I’m spending the summer with my mother, who has been diagnosed with dementia.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been exploring various iPad apps to see how she reacts to them.  The ones I’m writing about today are virtual and augmented reality.

Live Butterflies – This is an augmented reality app that uses the iPad camera for viewing and adds a variety of different butterflies onto the screen.  I tried this app because it was one that I’d read about on a dementia website called Memory Apps for Dementia.  Also because I love butterflies myself and thought that Mum would like them too, and it was free to try.   With this app you can either use the Viewer or play a game.  In the Viewer, you turn the screen to see butterflies flying around you.  There are 4 butterflies you can choose from, the Monarch, Orange Tip, Banded King Shoemaker and Blue Morpho.  If you touch the screen one of the butterflies will fly over and land on your finger.  There’s an onscreen camera so you can take a photo of what you see on the screen.  So far with Mum I’ve only used the Viewer, but the app also has a game where you can catch as many butterflies as you can in a set time.  Mum did enjoy using this app with me, though I don’t think she would use it by herself.

My Reef 3D Aquarium – this app is a virtual aquarium where you choose the fish and the background and then interact with it.  You can change the backdrop, drag and drop various items into the aquarium, change the gravel, add a bubble sound and so on.  You have 55 different types of tropical fish to choose from, and each of these fish behaves as it would in a real aquarium, for example in swimming in schools and sometimes even interacting aggressively with other fish!  It’s also possible to set the aquarium as a sleep timer along with your own music.    Once you have set up your aquarium you can choose a still or moving camera that scans through the aquarium, allowing you to focus in and follow individual fish.  You can also “knock” on the glass, feed the fish and turn the light off and on.  Within the app you can set up 3 different aquariums with different fish and then you can move between them.  This app has been tried in residential care homes for people with dementia and has been found to be very gentle and easy to use, even for people with advanced dementia.  This is a low cost app and there is also a lite version of this app with 14 different types of fish.  I loved this app, but Mum wasn't so keen.  She said she didn't really like fish!

Before moving to her independent living apartment, my mother used to have a big garden – it was my father’s pride and joy and he used to boast that he had a plant in flower every day of the year.  I was on the look out for apps that might allow Mum to enjoy a garden and came across the Flower Garden app which was also recommended for people with dementia.  This app has been successful in tapping into memories which people have enjoyed from years gone by, as many people with dementia used to enjoy growing plants and may be missing their gardens.    Flower Garden allows you to choose virtual seeds, plant them, water them and watch them grow.   Some of the flowers bloom straight away and others take a few minutes of care each day over a week to help them grow.  The amazing thing is that you can then cut your flowers and make them into a bouquet and send it along with a personalized card.  This app is also a paid one, or a free app with in-app purchases.

The next set of apps I want to try with Mum are those that focus on attention, memory, speed and problem solving.  I’d also like to explore apps that can be used with reminders about day-to-day activities.

Do you know someone with dementia who enjoys using iPad apps?  If so please leave me a comment as I’d love to try out some more apps with my mother.  Thank you!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Can technology transform living with dementia?

My project for the past few days has been to see whether technology can help my mother with her dementia.  My mother has always been very artistic, often painting flowers, though in recent years she has not created any art at all.  However I noticed when I arrived this summer that she does attend an art therapy class where she uses adult colouring books, and one of these was the Kew Gardens Flowering Plants Colouring Book containing outline drawings of plants.  This is a gorgeous colouring book which showcases illustrations by accomplished British botanical artists, and Mum has been able to make lovely pictures using this book.

Mum has never used a computer or iPad.  She has a mobile phone but has never been able to use it either and mostly doesn't remember to charge it.  Despite this, I was keen to see whether using the touchscreen on my iPad would be possible for her.  I was hoping that an iPad would be more intuitive than using a computer and that I could find some apps that would allow her to create art easily.  I was also looking for apps that would help her memory and interaction.

Today I explored the app Prisma.  I thought that this would be an app that would appeal to my daughter too, who has just got a degree in art history, because many of the filters are those of famous artists.  We tried this out with selfies, photos of Mum's grandchildren and photos of flowers.  Mum liked working on the flower photos best.   Here is the picture that she liked working on the the most, using a mosaic filter:

Another app we tried today was Kaleidoscope which allows you to make geometric patterns on the screen.  I know Mum had a kaleidoscope as a child because my grandmother still had it in her house when I was young and I used to love playing with this. This was quite entertaining for a while but I'm not sure that Mum would want to explore this much more.

I have a whole list of other iPad apps that I want to try out with Mum, including the Bloom HD app that I used with our First Grade students earlier this year.  If these manage to be successful and entertaining for Mum, we can get her an iPad for her birthday next month.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Being a mother to my mother

This summer has been a more relaxed one than in previous years.  While I did 4 days of cognitive coaching in Genoa last month, most of my holiday has been spent with family and friends.  I visited a friend in Croatia, went to our daughter’s graduation for her MA, helped her find a place to live in London, and then the following week helped her move in, but most of the time I’ve been with my mother, who last year was diagnosed with dementia.  It’s been a challenging time as I am having to learn so much about what this condition entails.  And I’m having to revise my own ideas of what my mother can do and what she is experiencing, almost on a daily basis.

As this blog is called Tech Transformation, I also wanted to share some resources that I’ve been using as I try to come to terms with and to help Mum cope with this disease.  I have found some great resources on the internet to educate myself about what is happening and what we can expect, and I’ve been using an app to help me cope with what at times can be stressful and challenging.

One of the best sites I’ve found is the Dementia Friends website set up by the Alzheimer’s Society.  This website aims to change people’s perceptions of dementia.    One of the most helpful resources to inform people about dementia is the bookcase analogy.  I found this on YouTube and am sharing it here as it’s a good, clear explanation of what people with dementia are experiencing:

In my mother’s case it’s clear that there are many books that have “fallen off the shelves” and at the same time others that have been put back on again in the wrong order.  Sometimes a memory is true, but the people in it or the time it happened are not.  And there are some strong emotions attached to memories that are now unreliable.   We started to notice a loss of short-term memory in Mum around 2 years ago, though it took a year (and a brain scan) to get a final diagnosis last summer.  During this time Mum has become confused and has some difficulties communicating and planning.  I have also seen it affect her moods and emotions, and have seen her becoming frustrated and angry about everyday things.  Some days it’s like living with a 2-year old again, and I’m having to draw on strategies that I haven’t used since my own children were toddlers in order to cope.  At the same time I’ve seen that Mum does still enjoy many of her hobbies and loves being with people – and that this does work well in small doses.  We know that people with dementia are often happier if they can live independently in their own homes, so that is what we are trying to make sure can happen for Mum, with increased support.

But what I have come to see over the past 5 – 6 weeks is that it’s important to care for the people who are looking after loved ones with dementia too.  And as I’m still learning how best to support Mum, I do a lot of things wrong, and then feel upset and think how I should have done something different or said something in a different way.   It’s a learning experience for me – and this is hard learning!

Mum lives on the edge of a large park, and to help me de-stress I’ve been walking.  I downloaded a step app onto my iPhone and have set myself the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day.  I go out in the morning and the evening and simply being out in nature is calming.  I've tried several different apps, but have settled on one called Steps.  It’s simple with just a background that changes colour like a sunrise the more steps I take each day.   I have stuck to the recommended 10,000 steps (7 km) but it’s possible to change the goal.  So far the only problem I have encountered with this app is that using the GPS does dramatically reduce the battery life.

As well as this I have been using Buddhify for guided meditations.  During my time at Mum’s I have focused on 4 specific areas of this app:
  • Parks and Nature
  • Walking in the City
  • Difficult Emotions
  • Feeling Stressed
In the Parks and Nature section there are 4 meditations.  These focus on recognising how much bigger than ourselves nature is, letting nature inspire you with kindness, paying close attention to our senses, and inclining our mind towards peace.

I’ve done the Walking in the City sections out in the countryside on my daily walks.   In this section there are 6 meditations. These use outer space to bring inner space, connect you with your stride and the physicality of movement, help you notice a sense of stillness while moving, and spread kindness to those around us.  There is also a sitting meditation that can be done in the city.

As well as these, while walking in nature I’ve been listening to the sections about stress and emotions.  In the Difficult Emotions section there are 5 meditations that deal with self-judgement, recognising and allowing the difficult, giving space to difficult things, seeing how emotions move and change, and exploring the details of our emotions. 

Finally in the Feeling Stressed section there are 6 meditations that deal with breathing, moving out of your thoughts and into your body, replacing negative thoughts with neutral ones, understanding your stress and becoming free of it, and the RAIN technique for dealing with difficult emotions.

This summer, as I have been walking around and thinking I know there are some hard decisions to be made.  When I get back to school I need to decide whether or not to renew my contract for a further period of time, or whether next year will be my last one in India.  I need to balance my professional growth with the support I can offer to my family.  These are hard decisions.  I hope that becoming more mindful will give me the confidence I need to make good decisions.

Photo Credit: Dalal Al-Wazzan via Compfight cc

Friday, July 8, 2016

Transcendence – Integrity part 8

I’m up to the final chapter of the book Integrity which looks at character traits that are the key to success in relationships, business and life in general. 

Around 5 years ago I went on a week’s field trip with a group of Grade 5 students.  While there, a group of administrators from another local school came to visit the centre to see if it would be a possible venue for their own school trips.  One of these administrators asked me the question, “What’s it like working for a megalomaniac?”  The question took me back a bit as it was so direct and also very difficult to answer.  This question is also addressed by Dr. Cloud in his chapter on transcendence.

Cloud writes that some people live as if they are the centre of the universe and put a lot of effort into building their own little kingdom.  This called to mind an interview question I was asked once.  The question was “Where will you be in 5 years time?” and my response back to the Director of the school was “Where will you be?”  His answer was interesting:  he told me that he had just taken over the school and that in 5 years he would still be there.  The words he used were something like, “I’m not going to spend my time building a good school and then hand it over to someone else.”  In retrospect this should have rung some warning bells, but unfortunately it didn’t.

Cloud writes quite extensively in his book Integrity about this trait of narcissism.  It is displayed in grandiosity, omnipotence, extreme selfishness, exploitiveness, overestimation of one’s talents or importance, feelings of entitlement and egocentricity.  It is based on arrogance, selfishness and pride, where we are the kingpin in a little world of our own making.  The results are likely to be shallow, toxic and destructive.

Successful people are the opposite of narcisstic – they are what Cloud refers to as transcendent as they realize there are things bigger than them and that their life is about finding their role in the big picture.  The people we love being around are those who throw themselves into the mission of greater good.   Cloud writes, “It is the big things, not ourselves, that make us big.  As we join them, we become larger.  The paradox is that to join things bigger than us, we have to humble ourselves and become “smaller”.  When we realize we exist for them and not them for us, we grow into greatness.  The greatest people are the ones who have not sought greatness, but served greatly the causes, values and missions that were much bigger than them.”

Bigger things that transcend us are our values – the things that guide our behavior.  In my role in technology one of the values I have is respect for other people’s creations.  This means using only legally purchased software, for example.  The day I was told to use illegal software in a previous job, was the day I was determined to leave.  Living in a beautiful country and earning lots of money could no way compensate for going against my core values.

Cloud writes about the importance of awareness:  people who live for bigger things know that bigger exists, and this awareness leads to action.  He tells us “values without visible expression of those are not worth much”.

I have been reading Dr Henry Cloud’s book Integrity as part of ASB’s summer read.  The book has taken me on a journey that has made me reflect on my own values relative to past experiences.  Reflection is always good if it leads to new learning and insights.  Some of the things I have faced while reading this book have not been pleasant, however I would recommend it and am looking forward to our discussions once I’m back at school.   Here are some of the most important paragraphs that I have found in the book.

Practice Without Catastrophic Results
“If you have not had a safe place to develop different aspects of who you are, and to practice in ways that your career or life is not at risk, you have probably not developed certain character traits.  In some ways you have been in survival mode, and that is not the mode in which we usually develop new aspects of character, other than perseverance.  New skills require openness, but survival requires protecting oneself.  That is why in fear-based corporate cultures, people often do not grow in new ways.  They are too busy guarding themselves and watching their back.”

Proper Structured Feedback
“The “boss” relationship should be just this way:  observe, give feedback, coach, mentor and grow.  Instead too often it falls into the “ignore and zap” mentality.  Bosses ignore people’s patterns until the problem is too much, then they come down hard or fire them.  Firing should never, ever be a surprise.  It should be the end of a process that has attempted to give lots of corrective feed back.  When this process goes right, firing does not happen, but growth does.  Character thrives on feedback that is focused and used well.”

Support That Does Not Enable

“In character growth the road is sometimes rocky.  We have to swallow our pride, our egos, our resistance, and sometimes just bite the bullet and hear things we don’t want to hear    Sometimes it can be so tough that you either want to quit or think that you can never master what you are being told to do.  So at those times we also need the arm around our shoulder.  We need support and encouragement to do the hard thing.  We need the push to keep going.  To know that a leader or someone cares about us can help us to do the hard next step.  If we know we have someone on our team it changes everything.  But this support has to be of a certain nature.  It has to side not only with us as people, but also with our need to grow.  The best support people …. do not enable us to remain the same by rescuing us … they caringly walk alongside us, but hold us to the path at the same time.”

Photo Credit: Sterneck via Compfight cc

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Growth and risk taking –v- the status quo - Integrity part 7

In Mumbai close to where I live there is a statue called “A child gives birth to a mother”.  At first I thought this was an odd way of putting it, but the more I think about it, the more true it seems.  I was certainly not ready to become a parent, but 25 years ago, when my son was born, I became one.  This post is about growth.  It’s one of the 6 qualities of character identified by Dr. Henry Cloud that make up integrity.

Some people embody a desire to grow – they want to be more than they currently are and to make things bigger and better over time.  This characteristic is different from the last one I wrote about, the ability to solve problems, because that is simply improving what already exists.  Dr. Cloud defines these people as maintainers, rather than growers.  He writes that it is a personal choice to invest in oneself and to grow, it is something that people need to engage in willingly.  Growers have a different sort of drive than maintainers who continue the way they are day after day doing what is required of them.  Growth involves taking risks.

Risk-taking is probably the most controversial of the IB Learner Profiles.  It is defined in the following way:
They approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles, ideas and strategies. They are brave and articulate in defending their beliefs.
Risk-taking is controversial because not all cultures see this as positive – and because of that IB schools have the option to replace the word with courageous.  However risk-taking, getting out of your comfort zone, can be very positive.  Dr. Cloud writes, “risk means that you do something that has the possibility of a bad outcome, and that you embrace that possibility and are OK with it.”  However this is not just a wild gamble – usually the risk is very calculated and is taken when a successful person gets to the point where what s/he is doing no longer fits with what s/he has become.  At this point stepping away from the status quo is not really a risk but instead is “an expression of who someone has become, even if he or she is not sure of the outcome”. 

Reading through this chapter in the book Integrity reminds me very much of what we do at ASB in our R&D department.  I’m continually feeling myself blessed to work in a school that has the foresight to invest in the future and that wants to become “more” than it currently is.  Our R&D department looks several years into the future at the trends that will impact education, and then prototypes to get the school ready for them.  Examples of this have been the BYOD and mobile devices prototypes, multi-age classrooms, internships and a revised school calendar.  Our investment in these initiatives have meant that we have a completely different school from those schools who continue to do “business as usual”.  In a nutshell, we are going out to the future before it comes to us.

I’ve written before about how much I have grown and developed in the past 4 years as an educator as a result of being at ASB.  I have continually been given opportunities to develop myself and hone my leadership skills.  I have been encouraged to grow.

Dr. Cloud writes about people who want growth seeking out mentors who are further down the road.  This characteristic is markedly different from people who think they know it all and who do not ask for help.  People with a growth mindset value the experience of others.  To be mentored means that we are comfortable with becoming vulnerable, as we allow someone else to look at what we are doing.  We are not narcissistic and don’t feel the need to “look good” – we need to be honest in order to grow.

Value the present but don’t stay there
Cloud writes:
The mature character loves today.  She loves what today has accomplished.  Her soul is satisfied when she looks at the result.  She is grateful for the accomplishment, proud of it , and grateful to all of those who helped bring it about.  She thanks them, rewards them, and celebrates with them.  The process is as important as the goal.  Then tomorrow she will strive for more.

Attempt things you are unable to do
Cloud also writes:
People who grow jump in over their head.  They try things that they cannot do, then stretch to become able to do what they are attempting.  They take on challenges that ask them to become more than they have been or done before.

Recharging the batteries
Cloud also includes a section in this chapter about rest.  He writes about a period of time each week, month or year when you are not producing anything.  This is a time of regeneration or as he puts it:  “fields need to be fallow to restore fertility for future harvests”.  This requires a character that is capable of rest rather than one on perpetual output.  If nothing is coming in or regenerating to make the future better then the future will simply be more of the same – in such a situation growth cannot occur.

What is also important, according to Cloud, is to invest in the growth of others.  He writes that successful people “not only subject themselves to mentors and people further down the road than they are, but they are also the ones further down the road for someone else.  They give away what they possess and invest in others becoming more".  The secret of success is simple:  invest in becoming more than you are, and then pass it on.

Photo of the statue A child gives birth to a mother (Vithal Venkatesh Kamat)