Dementia is a very difficult disease. It is, of course, most difficult for the people afflicted with it, but the difficulty of dealing with dementia in a parent runs a very close second.
This is especially true if you are a caregiver for that parent. On top of the emotional stress that comes with watching your parent’s health and cognitive function slipping away, there is the mental and physical strain of handling the anxiety, depression, forgetfulness, impaired judgment, agitation and other behavioral issues and symptoms that are characteristic of dementia on a daily basis.
Knowing as much as you can about what to expect as dementia progresses and how to manage these changes can make a very difficult situation a little easier for both you and your parent. Here are 3 important considerations to be aware of as you help manage care for your parent with dementia.
1. Getting Your Paperwork in Order Early is Essential
Dementia progresses differently for each person who suffers from the disease. It may be a long, slow decline for some people, while others may decline in larger, more profound steps.
Since this disease can be very unpredictable, and virtually everyone affected by it will need someone to make medical and financial decisions on their behalf at some point, it is crucial for your parent to provide you with the legal right to manage these issues.
When dealing with dementia in a parent, earlier is definitely better when it comes to these legalities. It is important that it is done while your parent still has the cognitive ability, and therefore the legal capacity, to grant you the authority to manage his or her affairs – and explain how he or she would prefer them to be handled.
If the paperwork is not in place before your parent’s cognitive abilities are significantly affected by dementia, you can still obtain that legal authority through the court system, but it is a much more difficult and time-consuming process. If you aren’t sure what paperwork you need, seeing an attorney who specializes in elder law is your best first step to ensuring that you are ready and able to effectively manage your parent’s affairs.
2. Getting to Know Your Parent’s Medical Situation and Medical Providers is Crucial
Don’t wait until your parent is no longer capable of managing medical care and/or medications to familiarize yourself with his or her medical needs and make yourself known to the healthcare providers who meet those needs.
Developing a good working knowledge of your parent’s medical conditions while he or she can still explain them to you is wise, as is cultivating solid relationships with his or her medical team. Doing this can help ensure that you are ready to step in and manage healthcare decisions efficiently and according to your parent’s preferences when it becomes necessary.
3. Preparing Yourself For Dementia Progression Is Important
Knowing what functional, cognitive, psychological, personality and behavioral changes you are likely to see in your parent as dementia progresses can help you prepare yourself emotionally for those changes.
It can also help you take practical steps to ensure that you are well-prepared to help your parent through them. Your parent’s healthcare providers are a good source of information on what to expect as time passes, as are online resources, such as the Alzheimer's Association website. Other families who are dealing with dementia in a parent can also offer insight on the changes you may see and how to manage them – dementia support groups in your community and/or online can help you connect with them.