One of the most challenging transitions many of us must make in our lives is that from child to caregiver of a parent. After all, our parents raised us! They were the ones to tell us to put on a jacket when we went outside, to stay hydrated and to eat our vegetables. And they were the ones to care for and comfort us when we were ill or scraped a knee.
A parent’s diagnosis of dementia brings with it the startling realization that mom or dad may no longer be capable of making decisions and, in some cases, of even remembering something that happened days ago. It can be overwhelming for adult children and can quickly turn the world they thought they knew upside down.
With that comes a tidal wave of questions. How am I going to deal with this? Where should I go to get more help for them? Where do I begin?
These are questions we hear every day. Here are some things to work through and think about as you prepare for a changing relationship and the journey ahead:
Be patient (and honest) with yourself. This can be harder than it seems. Sometimes the immediate reaction of an adult child is to pretend everything is fine and that “I’ve got this.” In time, this may be the case, but admitting and accepting your grief over the situation is the first step to getting a handle on it. Alternatively, many will shut down emotionally, backing away from their new role. Both are natural and understandable reactions. However, the more in touch you are with your emotions the better you will be able to sort through them. Talking things over with a close family member or trusted friend is helpful. The important thing is to face your emotions honestly and know that they are valid and deserve to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Take care of your own health. Never is this more important than in times of personal crises. Keep your doctor’s appointments, get your check-ups, find a good therapist and lean into new ways of relaxing and re-charging, such as yoga and meditation. Meeting your own health needs will help you stay stronger and more resilient as your journey as a caregiver moves forward.
Remember that your parent is still an adult. While your parent may be the one experiencing the decline in memory and cognition it’s important to note that they are just as upset about their diagnosis as everyone else is. They want to retain their dignity. And they want to do everything they can to keep themselves as healthy as possible for as long as possible. That is a very adult emotion and one which should remind you that your parent is and will remain an adult. Therefore, it may help to remind them as well as yourself that, “We’re a team, mom. We’ll get through this together.” It instills a sense of equality between you that is comforting and reassuring at a time when you both need it most.
Don’t take this journey alone. This is a time in your life to reach out to those around you for help. And there are plenty of resources out there to do just that. One is by getting involved with a dementia support group. These groups are a great outlet that allows you to share your challenges with others who are also experiencing them. Most of us have close family members or friends who are trustworthy and provide a sympathetic ear. This is the time to reach out to them. If they offer to help, let them.
There is no denying that the transition from adult child to caregiver is challenging on many levels. It is a journey that must be taken, but not without help. Don’t give up on yourself. And don’t underestimate the ability of those around you (including your parent) to help as well.
At our Anthem Memory Care communities, we address these kinds of issues every day with people like you who are faced with making all kinds of decisions you never thought you’d need to. Reach out to us. We’re here to help!