“Please remember the real me when I cannot remember you.”
This quote, sometimes referred to as the dementia creed, speaks to the pain experienced by those on both sides of a relationship with dementia. As memories fade from the minds of the elderly, they experience the loss of those they’ve loved. Meanwhile, their family caregivers do their best to look beyond the disease to the person they’ve known and loved for decades.
Nearly 16 million people in the United States are caring for a family member with dementia, according to figures from the Alzheimer’s Association. It often can seem like a lonely and overwhelming job, but help is always available.
Here are a few tips for coping with daily life as an adult family caregiver of an individual with Alzheimer’s or some other form of memory loss:
Start by learning as much as you can about dementia. Knowing about the details of the disease can help you make sense of the changes that are happening to your loved one. One great way to educate yourself is by attending the Alzheimer Society of Washington’s fall conference on Oct. 13, 2017. This year, the theme is “the changing brain.”
Be realistic about what you can and can’t do. If you’ve had children, try to remember what it was like for those first few years (well, all of them, really). Try as you did, you weren’t a perfect parent, and nor were your kids little angels. When dealing with dementia, know that there will be bad days and good days. Don’t beat yourself up if either of you struggles.
Communicate simply, clearly and positively. Starting with a smile and positive disposition can change the entire tenor of a conversation. Speak simply, with short sentences, and don’t ask complex or open-ended questions.
Love who your loved one is. Yearning for the return of the good old days can lead to dissatisfaction and depression. Instead of wishing that your loved one was like he or she was several decades ago, mourn the loss and meet your loved one in the present. Many caregivers avoid this step because it seems like such a loss. It’s true; it is a loss, and recognizing that can help you move on.
Use technology to your advantage. A number of recent tech innovations have made it easier to know that your loved one can be located should he or she wander off. The Alzheimer Society of Washington uses Project Lifesaver, which outfits those who are prone to wander with a bracelet that emits a special radio frequency, allowing them to be located by first responders in an emergency. The bracelets are free, but the service costs $15 per month for batteries and changing. Other options:
- Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return, which partners with MedicAlert to provide a 24-hour, nationwide emergency response service.
- MindMe is a GPS personal alarm that also comes with 24-hour emergency service.
- Instead of being worn like a watch or pendant, the GPS SmartSole fits into a shoe; like other GPS devices for wanderers, it allows the wearer to be tracked from a computer or smartphone.
Seek assistance when needed. Call on family members to provide companionship and other help whenever possible. Join a caregiver support group to seek the advice and solace of others in your shoes. Hire a part-time caregiver to give you regular (even overnight) respite. Take My Hand At-Home Care is a locally owned and operated eldercare provider with years of experience caring for older adults with dementia in Whatcom County.