Tips for Dealing with Aging Parents with Dementia or Alzheimer’s
By Cindy R. Williams
Having made an often highly emotional decision to do so, many families face the challenges of providing care in their home for aging parents with dementia and memory issues.
Susan Knight, of Midvale East Stake in Utah, worked as an administrative assistant in a memory care community in Bucks County, PA. She says, “It’s so sad to see your loved one diminish, but that is what they are doing. Compare it to an infant that slowly learns dexterity, how to eat solid food, how to sit up, how to walk, how to talk. Now, with dementia, they are slowly un-learning these things, almost in that order. Imagine the frustration of a young child who can’t communicate their needs and wants. Then imagine your loved one.”
“When my grandmother had dementia, and became as a little child, the scripture ‘Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 18:1, always came to mind. My grandmother had become as a little child. I have no doubt she entered quickly into heaven,” says Sister Knight.
Vicky Burkinshaw, of Citrus Heights Stake, moved her parents into an extension of her home when her father was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s. Although her mother was the main caregiver, Vicky remained involved to relieve the pressure and stress on her mother. She says what works one day, may not work the next.
Verlayne Richardson, of the Citrus Heights Stake, was the primary caregiver for her husband suffering from Alzheimer’s. She says, “I knew he wasn’t well, so I didn’t expect him to act like others his age. You must think of them more like children because they can’t do anything about how their mind is working. If you realize this, it will go better for both of you. Know their limitations and accept them. This will save you from going nutty.”
Sisters Burkinshaw, Richardson and Knight share the following tips for dealing with parents with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.
Expectations: You are always on duty, just like with a newborn baby, so you must take time for yourself to rest and refill your physical and emotional well. It is critical to adjust your expectations of the behaviors of your loved one to match the ever-increasing changes.
When Vicky’s father was asked, “Do you know you have Alzheimer’s?” He paused and then answered, “Yes.” He was then asked, “Does it bother you?” After another long pause. he answered, “No, but it drives your mother crazy.”
It’s Not About You!: Aging parents often become angry, frustrated, paranoid or afraid and lash out. Sister Knight suggests repeating “Q-Tip” to yourself often. “Q-TIP! Quit taking it personally! This will help you stay calm and patient,” says Sister Knight.
Laughter: “‘You laugh or you cry,’ certainly works when dealing with the diminishing mental abilities of an aging parent,” Vicky says. “If you can find the humor in a situation, it removes the stress and embarrassment you may feel.”
“At the movies, my father went into the restroom. After about 15 minutes, I asked an usher to check on him. He brought dad out. Dad had stuffed his shirt and pants with all the toilet paper from the stalls. He looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. You had to laugh,” she says.
Environment: Manipulate the environment to suit aging parents’ needs for safety and convenience. Slip on or Velcro-type shoes are needed. Grab bars in the bathroom. No stairs. Edges of rugs taped down. Childproof cabinets and electrical outlets. Keep medicines and cleaning agents locked up, knives put away, knobs on the stove removed.
Decreasing Body Functions: Hearing aids, adult diapers, large print on scriptures, computers and phones for as long as they are mentally able to use them. Get trained on how to shower or bathe them and other hygiene needs. Use a mattress liner and be prepared to wash bedding often. For decreased appetites, smoothies with fruit and vegetables or liquid meals that come in cans are useful and work well with dentures.
Decreasing Mental Ability: “Re-occurring questions are common. Be patient. Remember … they can’t remember,” Vicky says. Dementia patients often forget how to dress so be prepared to dress them. “If my father was too warm, he wouldn’t hesitate to disrobe wherever he was. Keep your wits about you. Be prepared. It can be a wild ride,” she says.
Medicine: Find a good doctor specializing in dementia or Alzheimer’s. Available medications won’t reverse the disease, but can slow down the decline. Consider medicines to help level moods and take the edge off their anger, paranoia, anxiety and fears.
Frequent Family Visits: Invite family members to visit with the aging parent and ask questions about their childhood. They will enjoy talking with someone who will validate them by sitting patiently, nodding and smiling. Most important is to ask other extended family members to provide respite by taking the loved one on a weekend or two each month.
Utilizing Resources: Consider hiring a professional to come into the home during certain hours.
“Relatives think they can do it on their own, but it’s much safer to have someone who is trained to help them,” says Sister Knight. Also check into Area Agency on the Aging, Meals on Wheels, Senior Corps, Care Linx, Visiting Angels, etc., for services, training classes and online discussion groups on aging, dementia and Alzheimer’s.