Hearing the doctor tell your mom or dad they have Alzheimer’s disease – or another form of dementia – is upsetting for both you and your parent. Once the initial shock subsides, there are steps you can take to feel less anxious about what lies ahead, prepare for the different levels of care your parent will need, learn how to cope with the diagnosis and help your parent continue to fill their days with meaning and joy.
Allow time for everyone to accept the diagnosis
A diagnosis of dementia can create a whirlwind of emotions. It’s natural to experience feelings of denial, fear, anger, sadness, frustration and even guilt. While the ups and downs can vary from day to day, your emotional state should even out with time.
As no two people process such complex feelings the same way, allow yourself, your parent and other family members the time needed to work through these feelings. If the feelings become overwhelming or elevate to a deep depression that won’t go away, seek help from a medical professional.
Learn more about dementia
The more you understand the progressive symptoms of dementia, the better equipped you’ll be to provide the care your parent needs and instill a sense of confidence knowing you’re doing everything possible to support them.
First, ask your parent’s physician to explain the diagnosis and refer local support groups. Explore resources on the Internet including podcasts, YouTube channels and online support groups – the Alzheimer’s Association® is a great place to start.
Be mindful that although various types of dementia exist, most involve symptoms that become worse over time. It’s helpful to develop coping methods to better manage your reactions should your parent become more confused, manipulative or aggressive.
What to expect as dementia progresses
People living with dementia may present many challenges for caregivers. Your parent’s symptoms may seem mild at first – like forgetting a person’s name and where they put their keys or trouble with routine tasks – but they can escalate to social withdrawal, wandering from home and the inability to feed themselves or use the bathroom.
Understanding the stages of dementia and utilizing this helpful guide will assist your decision-making process about the level of care your parent needs. Assistance with routine activities such as getting dressed, eating and bathing can be expected in the middle stages, which can usually be handled by a family member or visiting caregiver while your parent is still living at home. However, later stages often require full-time attention from dementia care professionals.
Periodically ask your parent what you can do to help and then provide assistance in a way that maintains their sense of control and independence as much as possible. Typically, in addition to routine daily tasks, those living with dementia will eventually require help managing finances, remembering medications, preparing meals, making medical appointments and arranging transportation.
While their needs will change – and may be challenging to provide for at times – taking steps that foster their independence and help you cultivate patience can ease a lot of frustration for both of you.
Explore treatment options
Alzheimer’s and many forms of dementia are progressive diseases that currently have no cure, but medical researchers are working hard to find one. Medications can ease or delay symptoms for some people. Talk to your parent’s doctor to understand the currently available options along with the potential risks and side effects of each. Check the Alzheimer’s Association Helpline for the latest news on memory loss clinical trials and see if there are any opportunities to participate in research groups.
Make home safe
Making the home safer for older adults is always a good idea regardless of a dementia diagnosis. Your parent will likely prefer to live at home until their condition requires more specialized care. Because you or another caregiver may not be present 24/7 in the early stages, take additional precautions to ensure your parent’s safety.
- Identify hazards – As dementia can affect your parent’s judgment and physical dexterity, remove any tools, kitchen appliances, utensils, and cleaning supplies or other poisonous chemicals that could cause harm. Disconnect the garbage disposal and apply safety knob covers to the stove. Consider safety locks on the washer and dryer, and periodically inspect lint screens/ducts to make sure they’re clean.
- Change locks – Replace locks on all exterior doors with a latch or deadbolt lock above or below eye level (so they are out of sight) to reduce the risk of accidental wandering. Hide an extra set of keys near an exterior door for emergency access. To prevent your parent from locking themselves in within the house, remove locks on all interior doors.
- Secure medications – Place any vitamins and prescription medicines in a locked drawer or cabinet.
- Remove firearms – Dementia may cause anxiety, hallucinations and aggression, so remove any firearms as your parent could mistake a well-known friend or family member as an intruder.
Create joy and find purpose
As dementia continues to affect your parent’s behavior and abilities, remain mindful of their feelings and treat them with dignity and respect. Share simple joys, whether it be listening to their favorite music, looking through a family photo album or painting their nails. Simply being present and offering companionship can go a long way to improving their attitude and well-being.
As people with dementia are prone to lose a sense of who they are, you can help strengthen your parent’s self-identity by discussing what gives their life meaning and purpose. Encourage them to participate in existing hobbies, explore new interests and reach out to others living with the disease for inspiration.
Plan for what’s ahead
Discussing financial matters with your parent can be awkward, but it is best to collect details of all bank accounts, tax returns and other important legal documents before their disease progresses. Talk to an elder law attorney or trusted financial professional to prepare or update your parent’s will and help you obtain medical power of attorney.
This is also a good time to explore care options for when you need a break from caregiving – or when the level of care your parent requires exceeds the care you and your family can provide. Research the home care and respite care providers in your area and make a list of those you prefer.
Memory care can be beneficial even to those living with the early stages of dementia, but deciding when to move a parent to such a community will depend on your parent’s health, symptoms and other factors. While your parent may be a long way from requiring round-the-clock care, it’s a good idea to schedule tours of local memory care assisted living communities before their condition progresses. This will give you and your family time to compare options and discover which community offers the specially trained staff, programs and secure environment that will best serve your parent.
Connect with others
Being a caregiver for a parent diagnosed with dementia can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It’s important to protect your own well-being so you can continue to provide the care they need as well as manage your many other obligations to work, home and family. If possible, don’t take on all of the responsibilities yourself.
Share your dementia knowledge and caregiving tips with family and friends who are offering support. Keeping everyone in the loop prevents any surprises as your parent’s disease progresses and helps ease the burden of everything resting solely on you.
Look for a support group and connect with others who can share their experiences and offer advice, encouragement and, perhaps most important, a sympathetic ear.
Call on us for help or support
As a leader in the industry, Atria Senior Living is here to share our expertise in assisted living and memory care and offer any support we can – even if the support you need is from someone other than us. Use this resource to guide and assist your family as you explore options for your parent’s care needs. We can call on our relationships with trusted financial advisors and provide senior care resources to put you in touch with the best solution for you and your family, whether you’re moving to Atria or not. To see if memory care is offered near you, find a community and look for the purple memory care icon.