Nearly 15% of Canadians 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Dementia is associated with a decline in memory, concentration, reasoning, and communication severely enough to interfere with everyday life. Dementia symptoms worsen over time and vary from person to person. If Mom or Dad has dementia, it is hard to know what to do or say. It is heartbreaking to see your parent decline and it can be so overwhelming trying to communicate as their personality changes and they are alternatingly confused, aggressive, helpless, obstinate, afraid, and hostile. It is scary, uncharted territory for the whole family, but you are not alone. These dos and don’ts for dementia care can help ease some of your worries and make daily life a little more comfortable:
#1. Do Remain Calm
Dementia often causes people to speak or act aggressively because they feel helpless and confused. It is important to stay calm and not respond with agitation or anger. Keep your tone and body language calm. Try to look beyond the aggression and see if you can pinpoint the feelings Mom or Dad is trying to communicate. Alternatively, you can try to shift the focus to another topic and circle back to this situation at a later time.
#2. Don’t Force The Issue
If your parent is not cooperative right now, it’s OK to come back later and try again – you’ll likely get a completely different reaction. Trying to force your parent to do something or engaging in an argument will only escalate the situation. As long as your parent is not putting themselves or anyone else in danger, just let it go and come back to the issue in a calm manner at a later point.
#3. Don’t Take it Personally
When your parent is yelling at you, crying, swearing, kicking, or otherwise acting aggressively, it can be hard not to take it personally and feel like you’ve done something wrong. It is so important to remember that aggression and hostility are almost always caused by confusion, helplessness, and fear, not genuine anger at you. Step out of the room or take some time for yourself if you need to and remind yourself that it is not personal and Mom/Dad loves you.
#4. Do Take Care of Yourself
It is understandable that you want to put Mom or Dad first and tend to their every need. At the same time, ultimately you will be a better, more patient caregiver if you give care to yourself as well. There is a tremendous expression: “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Take care of yourself and put yourself first, even as every instinct says to sacrifice your own physical and emotional health in favour of your parent.
#5. Don’t Try to Do it All On Your Own
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be a consuming lifestyle, especially if you are the primary caregiver or live with your parents. There is no shame in accepting help, and you have not failed if you come to realize after a certain period that you are not prepared to take on this challenge alone. Whether it is accepting assistance from siblings, moving your parent to an assisted living facility, or hiring the services of an in-home caregiver, or taking advantage of respite care, there are many options available to you.
- Stephen Bleeker