Senior Parent

Dementia is a heartbreaking disease that steals precious memories. How can you make the most of the valuable moments you have? Start by focusing on what you can do today.

1.      Make the Time Joyous

Feeling joyful about dementia is impossible, but finding a way to celebrate the moment is necessary. Play music or tell stories to make your mother or father laugh. Bring a cake and party hats to celebrate the day.

2.      One Thing at a Time

Scientists who study the brain tell us switching back and forth between activities quickly gives us the illusion of multitasking. With a dementia patient that illusion is gone. Your parent will probably not be able to watch television and have a conversation at the same time. Turn off the TV. You may also notice that being able to take part in a discussion is greatly impaired. One to one conversations work best.

3.      Simplify Choices

Supplying “fail proof” choices will make your loved one much more comfortable. “Do you want steak or fish for dinner?” Propose flexible plans. “Dad, I thought we’d get a hamburger for lunch. Is that okay?” People with dementia will often become frustrated and even angry when they aren’t sure how to respond to a question. Make it easy for them by limiting the choices.

4.      Carefully Listen

When your mother or father is trying to communicate, pay close attention. Use context and nonverbal clues to help you understand. Make it clear to the person you love that it is your desire to understand what he or she is trying to say. Don’t be in a hurry to supply words. You may eventually have to guess, but give it some time.

5.      Take it Easy

This is not the time to quibble about issues of lesser importance. If Mom thinks its Tuesday, why argue? Being “right” at the expense of upsetting her is not worth it. If your mom or dad is looking for someone that has been dead for a while, it is a little more complicated. Use your best judgment. Try to stay calm and only make corrections when absolutely essential.

6.      Exemplify Patience

When you don’t have true patience with your parent, pretend that you do. Many times a loved one with dementia will ask the same question over and over. He or she might get angry or belligerent. It is difficult not to take it personally, but it really isn’t about you. Enlist help from siblings, neighbors, or professionals. Take care of yourself so that you can be good for your parent.

7.      Tomorrow is Another Day

We all have good days and bad days. This is particularly true of a person with dementia. If your parent didn’t get enough sleep, or is coming down with a cold, it might not be a good day. If he or she is rested and feeling well, enjoy the time. Whatever the day is like, tomorrow will probably be different.

8.      Show Respect

In all circumstances, keep in mind that this is the person who raised you and loved you through all of your nonsense. The golden rule should be your model. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If there have been issues in your relationship with this parent that need healing, do what you can to resolve them. He or she may not understand a long explanation. A heartfelt “I forgive you” or “I’m sorry” will probably be enough to bring closure.

In a real sense, all we have is this moment. Share as much happiness with your parent as you can, but keep some balance in your own life. Neglecting your other relationships will not help your parent, and it may cause you pain in the long run.

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