The terrible thing about dementia is that in the early stages people are aware that their brain is changing. They often recognize the signs of memory loss, confusion and the inability to handle daily activities. It is a frightening time. Theslight personality shift can dramatically change your approach to dementia care. It isn’t really an open-ended discussion because the goal is clear – help is needed. However, it doesn’t have to deteriorate into a battle either. Here are five ways to help a parent who refuses dementia care:
1. Understand how they feel. Put yourself in your parent’s shoes. It is very difficult to accept aging in general, but especially the fact that mental capacities are diminishing. This loss of independence is a very frightening prospect and one that most people will fight. If you understand how your parent feels at this time in life, it will give you increased understanding about how to approach the conversation about their care. Approach discussions of in-home assistance or moving to a care community with compassion and facts. If you can show your parent what the caregiver looks like, or what their new home will be like, it may help to ease the transition.
2. Ask questions. You may be trying to provide help for your loved one with dementia directly or extra support to ease the burden on the spouse who is caring for the dementia. In either case, ask non-threatening, open-ended questions about the type of help that is needed. For example ask, “Mom, wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to do the laundry anymore?” Or you can ask the spouse, “Dad, don’t you miss being able to go to lunch with your friends?” The answers will give you information and an opening in which to discuss what the caregiving assistance can do to make life easier.
3. Be patient. If you are talking to a loved one in the early stages of dementia, he or she is not going to be able to focus on the conversation for a long period of time. As attention wanders, be patient, listen attentively, talk about other things, then bring the conversation back to the topic at hand.
4. Give choices. Giving your loved one options will help him or her to feel that they are part of the process and have some control over the decisions that are being made. You wouldn’t want someone to force you to accept strangers in your house and neither does your loved one. Discuss whether or not mornings or afternoons are better for a caregiver to come. Give your loved one a chance to select which day of the week is better for them and what activities a new companion might be able to help with.
5. Take it slow. It is very important to retain your parent’s dignity throughout this process. Introduce the caregiver so they can have coffee together, or take a walk. Ask the caregiver to accompany you and a parent to a doctor’s appointment. Have the caregiver take your parent grocery shopping so that you can remain at work. Taking these small steps will let your parent become accustomed to assistance from someone other than you. Your parent will be able to see that it doesn’t feel like an imposition. It is also an opportunity to see if the caregiver is a good match with your parent.
These things are difficult. However, if you approach these dementia care discussions with compassion and understanding it can make navigating this new territory a bit easier. Remember to keep an eye out for the early signs of dementia and never be afraid to ask for help.
This month we’re rallying behind Maria Shriver’s Move for Minds and the Women Alzheimer’s Movement and giving away a free weekend of respite care to 60 family caregivers across the country — for more information on the contest, please visit us here.