Caring for someone with dementia as they lose independence is challenging, especially when the loved one is your parent. Parents are accustomed to guiding their children throughout their lives. When the roles are reversed, it is often difficult for both the patient and the caregiver. Knowing when to assist and when to lead can be complicated, and getting it wrong can serve as a trigger for a person living with dementia. It is important to pick your battles carefully in order to live peacefully.
People suffering from dementia can become aggressive and irritable fairly quickly. It is difficult to respect a person’s boundaries as they fight to hold on to their independence while also struggling through life. Mom often insists that she doesn’t need any assistance when I can see that, clearly, she does.
For instance, Mom prefers to move around by herself without her walker (as I lurk behind her clutching my pearls), and occasionally, she will try to have a seat before she reaches her chair. These are the moments when I must pounce and guide her to her final destination, often to her dismay along with a curt “I said I didn’t need any help!”
Sometimes I can soften the blow of this perceived invasion by incorporating humor into the picture. Other times, I simply have to go with the flow. For example, there are times she doesn’t want to be reminded that she already fed her cat a couple of times that morning when she goes to feed it for the third time. Who am I to remind her? It’s better to have a peaceful day and a chubby cat rather than a recital of the day’s events and a cabinet full of cat food. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
The best advice that I can give to someone caring for someone with dementia is to have patience. I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand that how you handle a situation with an aggressive and irritable person suffering from Alzheimer’s can make all the difference in the world. Learning to de-escalate is an extremely valuable skill.
I try to take my own advice so that I can be a good caregiver while also going at Mom’s pace and respecting her need for independence. For now, most of the time we are on cruise control until I am forced to take the wheel.
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