Living with and caring for an aging parent with dementia is, quite frankly, not for everyone. It is a challenging, exhausting and heartbreaking labor of love. It takes sacrifice, patience, understanding, a sense of humor and a perpetually soft heart. The pain of seeing the decline of your mother’s and/or father’s memory and mobility will hurt for a long time however, the memories of the precious time spent together will last a lifetime.
This article will cover subjects such as noticeable changes in behavior, the use of notebooks, family and friends and hygiene. Every day spent caring for a parent with dementia brings something new because changes can happen quite rapidly. It is very important to observe and record their eating habits, emotional state, speaking ability and even their skin and body movements for signs of changes. Keep a daily journal of things that are important to you and observations that may be important to share with their doctor. The journal will be a keepsake of the precious time spent with your mother and/or father.
While it may be difficult at first, it is important for the caregiver to put aside their emotions and focus on the behavior of the parent. It is normal to grieve for the loss of the person who you once knew as independent, capable, loving and lovable. You see them beginning to be helpless, moody and rebellious. Now you are dealing with someone who, depending on what stage they are at, will need help with everything from dressing and feeding to toileting and walking. You almost have to detach yourself from your emotions of pain and sympathy for their condition in order to be strong for them. They need you more than you will ever realize.
As much as it is possible, enlist the help of family and friends for their benefit as much as yours. You need to take breaks and so does your parent. While some family members may make themselves scarce, others may be willing to offer respite once or twice a week. It will be uncomfortable for some family members to see your parent dealing with this terrible disease however, they will be glad they took time out of their busy schedule to be with their aunt, sister or cousin. You may be inclined to not ask for help because you know only too well how big of a job it is even for one day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Being organized in all aspects of housekeeping such as cleaning, laundry, meal planning and shopping is very critical for your sanity and more importantly, for spending leisure time with your parent. The more organized you are the more free time you can spend with your parent reading a book, listening to music, watching television or looking at photo albums. It might help their memory to name the people they see in the photo albums. When watching television, keep the channel on game shows or sit-coms. Don’t be alarmed if your parent really thinks that what is happening on television is happening in real life. Avoid watching crime dramas.
Always be ready and willing to modify your methods of care giving from one day/week to the next. Your mother or father may go from comfortably bathing in the tub to sponge baths in the bathroom and finally needing to be washed in their bed. Bath time is a good time to check their skin for any abnormalities such as bruising or bed sores. They may somehow bump themselves but not have the ability to tell you. Good hygiene is very important for their comfort and dignity. They deserve to stay clean, warm and dry.
Caring for an aging parent with dementia is more than doing a good deed. It is an opportunity that is highly rewarding and should not be passed, if possible. Daughters who care for their aging mothers and/or fathers will soon learn that there is almost nothing more rewarding than this very personal final act of love.
Our counselors and RNs at Partners in Healthcare are available to talk with you about your in-home care needs including how to reduce caregiver stress while providing better, affordable care. We are a senior care agency providing elder care in Orlando, 407-788-9393.
Hank Charpentier, MBA, MA, BSB, Certified Senior Adviser