Caring for an aging parent or relative is difficult under the best circumstances, but when they’re struggling with dementia, the task is even more difficult for the caregiver. Along with dementia comes a loss of function, memory lapses, and loss of strength, and as it progresses, you will need to look into assisted living or the services of a home healthcare provider.
If you are in the “sandwich generation”, those caring for an aging parent while in the midst of raising your own family, consider that while it’s hard for you to watch your loved one struggle with dementia, it is frightening for them as well. This fear can also lead to anger and frustration on their part which in turn may cause them to lash out.
Here are some tips to help you deal with an aging loved one who’s facing, trying to cope with, dementia:
1. Gain an understanding of dementia. This disease involves the gradual loss of memory. You may have heard your aging relative talk about starting to forget things, you may see them struggle with recalling words or names of items, and they may face confusion when it comes to everyday activities. As a caregiver you will need to practice patience and remain calm even when he or she may be angry in the face of memory lapses.
2. Walk in their shoes. Remember, even if you are being helpful, your aging parent may become angry when forgetting how to do simple tasks. They may lash out at you, regardless of how well you’re caring for them. You need to try and take this in stride and try to understand what they’re going through. You may even find yourself having to treat them like a child, explaining and re-explaining simple items such as what items of clothes to wear or how to button a shirt. Bear in mind that they may also be embarrassed at their lack of memory and having to ask for help.
3. Understand dementia’s progression. In order to know whether, and for how long, you’ll be able to continue to care for your parent as the dementia progresses you need to speak with their doctor for advice. Ask the doctor what changes you should look for, read articles on the progression of the disease so you can be prepared for the changes that will be taking place. Looking into assisted living or home healthcare in advance of the time you need it is crucial and you don’t want to be making decisions spur of the moment.
4. Don’t argue. You will need to resist the urge to argue with your parent. They will likely be obsessed with a particular item and you may not understand it, but it is easier to go along with them (unless it’s going to cause them harm) than to argue with them. Try to avoid phrases such as, “Do you remember when we…” Try to swallow your frustration and anger and patiently repeat information if necessary. Take a deep breath, count to ten, then answer the question again.
5. Repetition is key. Your loved one will likely be dealing with a lack of short-term memory and because of this you need to answer in the same way all the time, if possible. For example, if your dad asks what he had for lunch, or even if he had lunch, you want to answer simply, “you had soup,” or something along those lines; avoid convoluted answers and give short, simple responses. Once you’ve answered, find a small task to involve him in to distract him and to get him otherwise involved.
Because dementia is a progressive illness it is difficult for both you and your aging relative to deal with it is frightening for all involved and coping mechanisms need to be put in place for all involved. Helping your relative maintain her dignity and knowing when they can no longer be left safely in the home is a discussion you need to have among your family members.