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Automatic Function - What It Really Is
Posted: Wednesday, September 9, 2015 10:31 PM
Joined: 7/24/2015
Posts: 3020

Automatic Function / Automatic Processing

Automatic Functioning is what results whenever you have practiced a task so often that it becomes automatic.

An example of this is when you were first learning to tie your shoes it was very difficult. You had to work very hard to coordinate all your fingers. You had to remember the sequence of patterns that the laces had to go in. And, for a while, this task was challenging for you and took some time and attention. However, after a year or so, you became able to tie your shoes with ease. Indeed, you could probably even tie them with your eyes shut. When a task, like tying your shoes, becomes so easy that you can tie them without conscious thought or attention, it becomes part of your automatic functioning.

Tasks that are stored in one's automatic functioning are often well preserved in dementia.

Because tasks that are part of our automatic functioning require little conscious thought or attention, they use very little of one's mental resources. Therefore, a person with dementia who has learned to make use of their automatic function, can often retain many important functions and tasks well into the end of stage 5 and often somewhat into stage 6.

Some Tasks that are stored in our Automatic Functions:

* Talking, especially greetings and partings. Any form of talking that is habitual or repeated often during their life.

* How you behave in certain situations. Again, the kinds of behaviors that are habitual or have been repeated often.

- When you come into a seminar are talk, you go take a seat facing the front of the room.

- When someone extends their hand to you, you shake it.

- When someone smiles, you smile back.

* Driving.

* Riding a bike / how to balance on a bike.

* Walking / sitting down / standing up / bending arms and legs / etc.

* Tying one's shoes.

* That cups are for drinking / how to eat.

Caregivers can make use of these Automatic Functions to preserve and increase one's independent, or semi-dependent's functioning.

Know that when people have dementia, as it progresses, they lose that they still have these behaviors within them. Often when caregivers ask people with dementia to do things, they give an instruction only. When you only give a verbal instruction, then the person cannot use their Automatic Function, but instead has to manually process it which likely is not going to work well. To access the Automatic Function, when a person with dementia can no longer do so on their own, make the movement yourself where they can see. When you ask them to sit down, bend like you are sitting down yourself.

For someone with dementia, when they can still tap into their Automatic Function, you can use this to retain many of your own functions. You just have to figure out how to allow it to become your default programming. For example, I no longer ever try to think about saying hello or goodbye to anyone because I know when these things are needed, they will just be there. Especially saying goodbye. You can feel the conversation wrapping down. You sense that something belongs in that space. If you just do not think about it, out comes the way you normally say goodbye to people. Although I have not slipped and said goodbye with an "I love you," like I normally would (yet). This is because I shut down that response in myself...and now have great trouble saying it when I need to (like with my kids).

Hope that helps.

Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015 7:49 AM
Joined: 5/20/2014
Posts: 4405

Thanks for sharing and getting us focused on what is intact and how to work with us and our strengths and weakness as well. First do no harm and then try new ways to help us. I do not think I am unique in that I have problems at times with automatic functions such as walking. I have to pause at times to think about stepping and moving my feet. Other times I take my right foot and cross it over my left foot and misstep and almost have a fall. When I am crossing one foot over the other it feels as though this is an automatic movement. I do this quite frequently and catch myself doing it then stop myself. Now I try to move slowly and carefully. They noticed on my most recent neuro psych eval that my physical responses to the testing were much slower than 6 mos ago. No kidding! Take a few good falls and you'll slow down too. Some persons might respond to verbal instruction while others may need to be shown. Persons whom have difficulties with visual processing and perception may need verbal or movement type instruction and assist. The carer to put the cup in their hand or bring it to their mouth, use gentle touch to lead them to the chair, up from the chair down the hall etc. I find myself forgetting to say thank you sometimes and get annoyed with myself. Is saying thank you an automatic function as well? Automatic functionality and what is intact, preserved or lost for PWD can depend on the type of dementia or what regions of the brain are being impacted by the disease processes. A coworker told me she parked her car in an area known for gun violence. She got out of the car and heard what she thought was gun shots and ducked behind her car. It turned out to be something else but she was observed ducking by a person who complimented her for thinking quickly on her feet. I'd like to think that my 'ducking' response is fully intact. is your ducking response still intact? The complexity of the whole matter is I have to refrain from ducking behind the wheel when cars start to appear like they are hurling and flying in my direction. I am now seeing flies flying quickly past me and then seemingly disappearing. I can never find the fly that I saw traveling at jet speed before my eye's! They go by very quickly and never land!

Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015 10:33 AM
Joined: 7/24/2015
Posts: 3020

jfkoc, they are different.

Llee08032, you bring up a good point and why it is so hard to (at least for me) to write about. However, the imitating the movement you want the person to do remains even to end stage.

I found that I had to get real discerning within me what is automatic and what is manual...because manual comes into everything too. It is most noticeable in my driving, but I am fearful of broaching that here.

Everything depends on the lead in...because, at least I find, I take all my cues from the people with me what I am supposed to be doing. And the cues often ellicite the automatic programmed responses we have.

To try to describe, if someone set up cones for me to walk though...and things to walk over and under. All that would be pretty manual...unless I sort of look up a little and view it in overview(??) Or, if I think about each thing, I will not be able to do it...but if I can switch to automatic, I just do it.

Doors can be a bane for me. If I look at them, I have so much difficulty figuring them out. But if I am leaving somewhere, like an apt and saying goodbye, I just reach for the door and go through it without any thought at all.

The discerning between thinking about something and how to do it and not think about it.

For me a big one is handshakes. I used to work in the professional world and handshakes were a big deal. Someone in a college business class once taught us the proper handshake...and it stuck with me. In the years I worked, with clients coming in and out, and introductions almost was always with a handshake. Indeed, often when a my doctor, comes in the room, I instinctively throw out my hand to shake hers. Then I realize, like an idiot, that it was not the kind of situation you do that.

I can be completely overwhelmed as to what people are saying and doing, but when a hand comes towards me in handshake manner - I reach out and confidently shake their hand and greet them.

It sort of leaves me feeling like a robot at times. But I have been able to make use of it for instilling pattern behavior. What I do when I am in the kitchen is take my pills. What I do in the bathroom is go the bathroom.

Daily I program in my name, date of birth, address, kids names and ages, and other relevant information hoping to keep it in the automatic section.

Ah, here is a good example...addresses and dates of birth. They ask you these things commonly at the pharmacy and the nurse checking you in to doctors apts...there, I can spit them out flawlessly. When my doctor asked me my address out of context, humiliated...I knew I knew it...but had no program for saying it. I could see it in my head. If she could have given me a minute I might have been able to spell it. Another minute and I probably could have said it.

Or typing. If I look away, I can often type better than if I look. But then I used to always look at my fingers.

Hope that helps.

Michael Ellenbogen
Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015 11:36 AM
Joined: 11/30/2011
Posts: 3456

I know too many people with dementia that have these issues. I love that we give advice but let’s insure the advise we do give does not hurt someone. I know at least 50-70 people with this disease. It is so scary on how we are all so different. I must tell you some even still surprise me. Lest never say we are all the same way.

Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015 4:26 PM
Joined: 7/24/2015
Posts: 3020

If you see anything questionable, please feel free to point it out to me.
Michael Ellenbogen
Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015 7:41 PM
Joined: 11/30/2011
Posts: 3456

It would not be for me to challenge you or anyone else, but I can tell you I cannot do some of those things any more. I just don’t want people to think its a cookie cutter for all of us. It sure would be great if it was.

Posted: Friday, September 11, 2015 8:08 AM
Joined: 7/24/2015
Posts: 3020

But you are Michael. This post is just (one of many) informational posts on understanding the different processes of the brain. They are not statements. Nor are they complete.

I find, that when one can understand how something works...that it ceases to cause as much fear and confusion. Do you find that as well?

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 9:29 PM
Joined: 7/24/2015
Posts: 3020

Posted: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 10:12 AM
Joined: 9/12/2013
Posts: 3560

I never heard this before - to act out what you want someone with dementia to do.

Makes sense to me now. I am so glad you reposted these lists and explanations.

what baffles me is how I used to clean my house, do 4 loads of laundry, grocery shop, cook walk dogs and work 6 days a week. Now I am looking at same mess for years and can not move it.

when I am home alone I can do more than if Keeper is in house. that is another story.

interesting stuff, should be in a lecture to physicians and nurses

Posted: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 10:29 AM
Joined: 9/30/2015
Posts: 1155

Sun I am finding all of this extremely helpful.. Thanks for bumping these up..
Posted: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 1:35 PM
Joined: 8/27/2015
Posts: 3

As a caregiver of my husband, this really makes sense. It answers the question of why he just looks completely blank when trying to do something or follow instructions.
Posted: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 4:53 PM
Joined: 7/24/2015
Posts: 3020

It makes good sense research and get know the areas cognition our brain...what is affected,, how and why...and perhaps, also help us with disease make sense why some things still so easy and others (like naming a list animals) so hard.