Learning that a loved one has a dementia can turn your world upside down. It will take some time to wrap your head around the fact that your role as adult child, sibling or spouse will be changing dramatically. The good news, however, is that you are not alone. Far from it. There are more resources today than ever to help those who are suddenly plunged into the role of caregiver.
Here are 5 important steps to take as you begin your journey.
- Find care for yourself. There is a good reason we list this point first. If you are not operating on all four cylinders, you will be of little to no help to your loved one with dementia. Schedule that check-up you’ve been putting off. Reach out to those friends and family members who will be most supportive. Consider seeing a therapist, if you don’t have one. Just knowing that you have an hour coming when you can vent and release your fears and frustrations can help you get through hard days. Consider joining a dementia support group where you can share your experience with others in similar situations.
- Educate yourself. Thanks to the internet, you can quickly access dozens of helpful websites and on-line resources to help you better understand the disease. Start with www.alz.org, the official website of the Alzheimer’s Association. They have multiple resources and informative articles.
- Gather important documents together. This may take time but is well worth the effort in that you will not have to go fishing around for key documents when you have an urgent need for them. Organize all of your documents and make a few copies of each.
- Gain “Power of Attorney”. This is the time when you need to decide who, within your family, is in the best position to act on behalf of your loved one as his/her health declines. Talk it over with your loved ones. Once the determination is made, you will need to secure a Power of Attorney. It is a straightforward process, although you may want to retain legal help to make sure it is done properly.
- Re-evaluate living arrangements. Does your loved one with dementia live at home? During the early stages of dementia, it may be possible for them to remain at home. However, it is important to safeguard the home as well as to make sure you have a means to regularly check in with your loved one. If you live remotely, you will want to hire someone part time to visit and assist your loved one with daily activities of living as he/she becomes more cognitively and physically impaired.
This is also a good time to evaluate memory care communities. As your loved one’s disease progresses, it will become more and more challenging for them to remain at home. Keeping them socially connected is also important for those with dementia. A memory care community devoted to caring for those with dementia can be an ideal environment for your loved one. Many, such as Anthem, allow for short respite stays so that your loved one can “try it out” for a week or so.
Finally, it is so important to make sure you are reaching out and communicating with family and close friends. You may also need to schedule some family leave time with your place of work while you iron out steps you will be taking over the next several months. Don’t be afraid to share your circumstances with those who are in a position to help. It will make the days and weeks ahead easier to deal with as you begin an important journey as caregiver.