‘Preparing for Two Losses:’ Caring for a Loved One With Memory Loss

Many elderly adults in this country suffer from some form of severe memory loss, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. This can be difficult for family and friends to see, experience, and help with.

Over time, your older loved one may even reach a point where they have extreme trouble communicating with you. They may experience behavioral and personality changes that seem odd. In other cases, your loved one may not seem to even recognize you or other family members anymore, or may lose interest in many of the people, places, and things they once loved.

This can be difficult to deal with, we know. In many ways, it may help to prepare for the possibility of this potential loss ahead of time – to help make supporting and caring for your loved one easier down the line.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you look ahead to caring for a loved one with severe memory loss:

1.) Be Proactive

Don’t wait for disaster to strike before you seek help. When caring for an elderly relative dealing with memory changes, it may prove beneficial to be proactive and prepare for different events before they actually come up.

Here are some ideas for steps you may take at any point – from the early warning signs of dementia on:

Speak with medical professionals
Your parent’s medical team may be able to help give your family a useful diagnosis of your parent’s condition. They can also assist with issues having to do with medication and other health-related situations that may arise.

Get family on the same page
You, your siblings, your own kids, your aunts and uncles – everyone will be affected by changes to your parent. It’s important to have the big, important conversations early on, so that everyone can get on the same page as soon as possible, for the sake of your loved one.

Research all of your options
Could your parent benefit from full-time medical supervision? Or would non-medical home care help them age in place more easily? It’s important to research your care options early, so that you can take action when needed.

Try to get a handle on details as early as possible
When something serious happens, your parent or loved one may not be able to offer the assistance you need. This is just one reason why it may help to gather anything you might need to assist your parent or loved one early on, including estate documents, advanced care directives, mortgage paperwork, Medicare information, and so on.

2.) Prepare to Handle Your Parents’ Needs

As your parent’s cognitive abilities change over time, they will likely need additional help and support keeping up with activities that may have seemed like second nature before. As you begin to think about supporting and empowering your parent through all of life’s changes, it’s important to come up with a strategy to assist your parent with things like:

  • Housekeeping
  • Driving
  • Medication reminders
  • Social interaction
  • Meal prep
  • Handling finances, budget
  • Activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, moving from room to room

Having a strategy in place to deal with these many responsibilities early on can make the adjustment easier down the line. For instance, it’s worth having a family meeting to discuss who in the family may be assuming the bulk of the caregiving duties. Or, you may wish to research options for help, such as non-medical home care, which can make handling these ADLs easier for your loved one, and for you.

3.) Learn New Ways to Communicate

“Will I really be able to take care of the people who took care of me?”

This is a common question asked by adults who find themselves caring for an aging loved one. The question becomes even more significant when caring for a loved one with dementia.

Preparing for role reversal like this is never easy. It’s important to accept this and adapt. It may be uncomfortable to be the one making decisions for your parent and helping them, rather than the other way around, but it’s usually a necessary step to take. Be prepared to be the decision maker in the family.

It’s also important to keep in mind that your parent’s behaviors and personality may change. You may no longer be interacting with a person who acts the way you think they should or the way you may remember. Be prepared to learn new things about your parent and to interact with them in new ways.

Similarly, take steps to learn the best way to communicate and engage with your parent. You may need to find new communication strategies and methods, different from any you’ve used with your family before. Be sure to learn some of the best ways to speak with and support those with dementia.

Some useful guides and practical advice are available from resources like the Alzheimer’s Society, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Some ideas may include:

  • Use open and relaxed body language and posture
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Speak clearly and calmly
  • Use brief, easy-to-follow phrases and sentences
  • Be respectful
  • Try to avoid getting frustrated or losing your temper
  • Be prepared to rephrase or repeat yourself
  • Practice active listening, and learn how to pay attention to your loved one’s body language and nonverbal cues

4.) Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

Providing care and support to your loved one can be a remarkably affirming and fulfilling experience, rooted in profound love. But, at the same time, it’s easy for caregiving to feel like work.

Over time, many family caregivers report feeling increased feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers work themselves to the point of burnout, and end up becoming physically sick, dangerously exhausted, or emotionally drained as a result of their responsibilities.

As a caregiver, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your loved one’s needs, at the expense of your own. This can be counterproductive – for you, and for the family members you’re trying to care for.

Be sure to care for yourself however you can. Remember to eat nutritiously, drink plenty of water, and exercise when you can. It’s also important to make time to rest and recharge. Practice self-care by playing a sport you love, spending time with your own children, taking up art or another hobby, or volunteering in your community. Find fulfillment outside of caregiving, and you may be able to bring renewed focus, energy, and passion to your loved ones when it’s time to focus on care.

5.) Be Ready to Ask for Help When You Need It

Remember that you don’t have to go it alone. A loved one suffering with the emotional and mental effects of memory loss may require a lot of attention and specialized support, and there are many options out there for providing care or service when you cannot.

For instance, consider subscribing your loved one to a meal delivery service; this may be a way to help ensure that they’re getting nutritious food and a daily visit. There are other personal services you may be able to employ for grocery shopping, in-home medical care, and more.

Or, you may wish to look into hiring an in-home caregiver for your loved one. There are many different levels of care out there. You may be able to hire a caregiver to step in as “respite care,” and fill in when your schedule gets too busy and you need a break. Or, you could retain a professional in-home caregiver on a more regular basis, to assist your parent with driving, housekeeping, meal prep, laundry services, and ADLs.

Looking for an Open Ear?

Curious about what it may take to provide support and companionship to an elder in need? Want to discuss what may go into in-home care or weigh your other care options? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors to keep the conversation going. We’re always here to listen and provide answers rooted in our decades of experience assisting the elderly.

We’re locally based in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs. Our mission is to help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support.

We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients, and our caregivers can assist with activities of daily living, housekeeping, driving services, and more. Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help you and your family shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for the senior in your life.