Family caregivers of seniors with moderate to severe memory loss often struggle to define "meaningful, quality time" with their older loved ones.
How do you communicate with an elder whose mind is being ravaged by Alzheimer's dementia? Do they even know that you're there, let alone know how you feel about them?
What do you do if your Dad exhibits a behavioral outburst during your visit? What if your Mom has difficulty remembering your children's names, and the children get upset by it?
How can you make the time you spend together enjoyable for your parent with dementia? How do you help soothe his or her anxiety and help him or her to feel more positive? How can you maximize the time you have left together?
Lastly, how can you cope with your own fears and sadness about your older loved one's decline? Here are three ways.
1. Keep events low-key and routine.
Let's say that your dad's 90th birthday is coming up, and you and the family want to throw him a special celebration.
But there are challenges: He has moderate dementia and lives in skilled nursing care.
You might spend hours planning the party: figuring out who will pick him up from his memory care home, sending out invites friends and family, arranging for a caterer, etc.
Before his diagnosis, your dad might have loved and appreciated all the effort you went through to make his day special. Now, he might not be able to show it.
And he might not be able to handle the hubbub, either. He might get tired and agitated at the party, or experience anxiety because of the unfamiliar routine. Older people with memory loss tend to do better, emotionally speaking, when they stick to a daily routine.
Instead of throwing a big party on the evening of his birthday, bring the grandkids and a special cake over to his retirement home in the middle of the day, during your regularly scheduled visit.
The same is true of holiday visits. It might feel strange or upsetting not to bring Mom over from her personal care home to spend Christmas day with the family. But would it feel stranger or more upsetting to her to experience something outside her normal routine? Consider this carefully — it might be more enjoyable for her if you bring the holiday to her.
2. Avoid burnout and ask for help when you need it.
You can't be all things to all people. If you're exhausted and frazzled, you won't be able to provide effective care, and the time you spend with your older loved one won't seem enjoyable for either one of you.
So, make sure that you're looking after your own needs, too. Ask your partner or spouse to cook tonight, or plan dinner out. Divvy up caregiving duties between yourself and your nearby siblings.
Enlist your sister or brother to take your parent for the weekend, or arrange for your parent to be admitted for short-term respite care at The Episcopal Church Home here in Louisville, so that you can take a breather or a vacation.
Attend a caregiver support group or visit online caregiving forums for caregiving tips and emotional support from others who are in the same situation you are.
3. Prioritize presence over substance.
Older loved ones with advanced dementia may no longer be able to communicate verbally. But the sound of your voice, or the touch of your hand, might be soothing and enjoyable for them.
A quality visit doesn't have to involve conversation. It might just be sitting, holding hands and listening to your mother's favorite music. It might be a hug. It might involve combing and styling your mother's hair for her. Just your physical presence in the room can be rewarding and enjoyable for your loved one, and leave you with a good feeling, too.
Need more answers about your loved one's dementia diagnosis? Click here to download our free guidebook, "Making Sense of Dementia." In it, we discuss the signs and symptoms of dementia vs. normal aging, memory care options and more. And keep reading out Episcopal Church Home blog for more helpful tips and resources.