September is World Alzheimer’s Month. With more than 46 million people in the world living with a form of dementia, it’s time to speak out against this debilitating condition that is often ignored or hidden away. Although the elderly are revered and honored in many cultures, there’s still a stigma about having dementia. It’s not only the individual who is diagnosed with dementia who suffers, but family members who must care for this person are often under more strain and stress from dealing with a parent who is sick. If you’re taking care of a parent who has Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another chronic condition, here are some tips to help you deal with the complex issues that arise.
Dealing With Parents Who Have Alzheimer’s
- Give your parents as much autonomy as you can. Offer options, not orders, when possible. This shows respect for their condition and affirms their value to you.
- Expect anger and grief. Your parent is not only dealing with a loss of his or her own body and mind, but of authority. The relationship he or she has always had with you is changing. Anticipate anger and respond in ways that show you understand what he or she has lost.
- Separate the emotional dysfunction from the disease. Dealing with a parent who has dementia is hard enough when he or she forgets your name. When your mom or dad calls you by your sibling’s name, don’t assume anything from this. It’s not about who is loved more.
- Appreciate your helpers. Find other caregivers who can help you take care of your mom and dad. If you can’t bring in healthcare providers, find members of the community who can offer respite from cleaning or shopping to give you a break.
- Ask siblings for help, but remember that everyone has their own baggage they’re dealing with. Ideally, it would be great if the family came together when mom and dad were sick. Realistically, you have no idea what each person is dealing with emotionally when it comes to parental relationships. Just because you’ve worked through your issues, maybe siblings haven’t.
- Expect crazy from the family. Impending grief makes people do crazy things. If there’s any kind of inheritance, it compounds the situation. Anticipate the frenzy that can happen when a parent is dying. Know where you draw the line about money. Protect yourself as much as you can.
- Take care of yourself. Caring for an elderly parent is a time-consuming job, and it’s probably not your only responsibility. Take time for yourself and your family. Have some fun when you can. Enjoy the good days.
- Don’t dwell on the little things. When dad forgets the little things, don’t sweat it. Just go with it. Listen to his stories from the old days. A patient with Alzheimer’s might remember things from 50 years ago while forgetting that he took his medicine just a few minutes ago.
- Ask for your parents’ advice when you can. Get them to talk about their past when they are able. Take advantage of the moments and appreciate the good times.
- Take things slow. You’re running a marathon, not a race. Get help from the aging council in your community to help you find the right process that works.
You’re not alone in taking care of aging parents. There may not be a cure for the condition your parent faces, but there is a lot of support. Reach out to others and find assistance to help you manage your new role as a caretaker. Talk about the problems of dementia and aging in your community to let others know that they aren’t alone in their struggles. When people come together, it makes a difference.