Most of us can recall throughout our childhood being cared for by our parents. And, more often than not, it was mom who fed and bathed us, bandaged our cuts and bruises, and made sure we took our vitamins and stayed healthy. Today, however, for so many adult children the roles have become reversed. That loving mom or dad who raised you now turns to you to meet their needs. And, when he or she has dementia, those needs can emerge quickly and become all consuming.
Making the transition from your parent’s child to his or her caregiver can feel overwhelming. It can also become isolating for those who feel alone in their situation and find it hard to reach out for help. That isolation can have a negative impact on both emotional and physical health.
Here are some thoughts to guide you through and help you take steps to make this challenging journey a bit easier, not only for yourself but also for your parent.
Accept that there will be discomfort with your new role. Many adult children react to becoming their parent’s caregiver with expectations of perfection. Others back away from the role altogether. Both are understandable reactions to an uncomfortable new reality. But, while circumstances may require you to step up and take control quickly, understand that it will take time to adjust emotionally. Accept the fact that there will be discomfort. Above all, don’t expect perfection from yourself or your parent. Try to start each day with the realization that you will do the best you can under the circumstances.
This is not a “role reversal”. You are both adults. It is important to remember that, while mom may act in ways you have never witnessed before, she is an adult, not a child. And she is just as unhappy with her illness as you are. Sometimes articulating the message that “we are in this together, mom” can be helpful. There is a sense of greater strength if you are working as a team. And, while you are the ones making more of the decisions, there will be a greater sense of equality, less impacted by your past roles as parent and child.
Reach out for help. Don’t expect to take this journey without outside help. Join a dementia support group so that you can share your challenges with others going through similar transitions. If family members and friends extend an offer to help, accept it! Plan periodic short term, respite stays for your parent at your local memory care community. It will give you time to re-charge and take care of your own health.
Remember, too, to seek opportunities to share some lighthearted moments with your parent whenever possible. A little laughter can do wonders to relieve some of the strain on both of you. Yes, it can be hard to find, especially when you are having a bad day. It takes some work, especially in the beginning, but you’ll get better at finding humor as time goes on.
Finally, keep communicating, even if you feel your parent isn’t listening. Tell them, “I know this is hard for both of us. We’re not perfect, but we won’t give up on each other. We’ll get through this together.” In time, you’ll realize that this message is as much for you as it is for your loved one.