Caregiving is a rewarding yet stressful role that many children find themselves in as their parents age. When a parent has memory loss, the challenges that accompany this role intensify. Memory loss impacts how one thinks, feels, and acts, and is often accompanied by challenging behaviors like confusion, wandering, or agitation. Personality changes are also common. Someone who was once so patient and caring can become irritable and critical.
Educating yourself about memory loss and developing strategies for coping are important steps toward making you feel more confident in your role as a caregiver. The following tips can help you start on this journey.
Learn about their condition
Not all memory loss is the same, and strategies for coping can differ depending on the specific type and stage of memory loss your loved one has. Learning more about the condition your loved one has can help you understand the reasons behind his or her behaviors, and help you recognize that these changes are a result of a disease, not something being done on purpose.
There are many reputable resources for learning about memory loss and what to expect as diseases progress. Your primary care physician and other local health professionals are a good first step. The Alzheimer’s Association has an extensive collection of articles, courses, and resources for caregivers. The Massachusetts Family Caregiver Support Program provides resources for local education and support.
Take it slow and keep it simple
Memory loss often brings with it an array of other cognitive challenges. Your parent may have difficulty understanding directions and making decisions. When communicating, keep instructions simple and break tasks down into single steps. It is helpful to always start by addressing the person by name to get his or her attention before continuing. Then follow up with a simple instruction or choice, presented positively. For example, “Mom, would you like eggs or toast?” or “Dad, here is your cup.”
Find enjoyment together
We all have things that we enjoy doing that help give our lives meaning. People with memory loss still seek meaning and pleasure in their lives and relationships. Maybe you and your parent once shared a special hobby, like gardening or music. You may be surprised to discover that your parent can still participate in some of these activities. It is common for someone with memory loss to retain the ability to perform procedural tasks, like digging holes, folding laundry, or playing an instrument. Find ways to incorporate things that connect you and your parent, and ways to continue to honor who they are as a person.
Have a routine, then be flexible
Routines are very helpful for people with memory loss. While they may not consciously remember from day to do what the exact routine is, they will often recognize the familiar rhythms of the day. Build this routine around your parent’s moods and needs. You may find that morning is the best time to get tasks completed, and that it is helpful to have simple, low-energy activities planned for the late afternoons.
Just as important as routine is flexibility. While routines are helpful guidelines, things change quickly and it is important to be ready to let go of a plan and respond to where your loved one is in each moment. Some days are just going to be tough. Nothing will go as planned. And that is okay.
Take care of yourself
Too frequently, caregivers put their health and quality of life last. You may have heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Making your self-care a priority, being kind to yourself, and permitting yourself to rest are vital parts of being a good caregiver to your parent. It is important to build a support network so that you don’t shoulder the burden of caregiving alone. This means finding people you can talk to, whether it is friends and family, or a support group. It also means finding people or organizations who can help with certain aspects of care to give you a break.
Make a plan
When a parent has memory loss, the need for assistance will likely increase, rather than decrease, over time. Having a comprehensive plan for the present and future will help both you and your parents. What things do you need help with now? What are the caregiving tasks you are most comfortable keeping yourself, and what are things that friends and professionals can assist with? Think of the entire range of needs, from personal care to household chores and maintenance, to assist with finances.
If you’re committed to providing quality care, Senior1Care of SouthBend has a place for you. The demand for our services continues to grow as our population ages. Learn more today about joining our dedicated team of caregivers that enjoy flexible hours, helping them maintain a healthy work/life balance.