Chances are, no one prepared you for being a caregiver. You were probably thrown into the role because your parent started changing and needed someone to watch out for their best interests. It’s one thing to deal with a parent who is mostly independent and needs companionship or a ride to the supermarket; it’s another to deal with a parent who is suffering from cognitive decline.
Here are six strategies for caregivers who are caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
1. Speak in direct, simple sentences. It’s natural that you want to be logical or rational in your conversations, but trying to explain yourself will only make you and your loved one frustrated. Stick to straightforward, simple sentences that your loved one will understand, and don’t give in to arguments.
2. Honesty isn’t always the best policy. Of course you don’t want to lie to your loved one, but sometimes telling small fibs is the best way to handle things. If your loved one thinks they volunteer at the pet shelter, there’s no harm in agreeing.
3. Accept different realities. Cognitive disorders interfere with reality, so your loved one may not remember that their friend passed away or that they haven’t worked at their job in over a decade. There’s no reason to remind your loved one of these things, as it will only bring up the pain associated with it.
4. Caregiving is a balancing act that changes every day. You want your loved one to practice their skills and remain independent for as long as possible, so it’s important that you don’t just do things for them. At the same time, you don’t want them becoming frustrated. Find the balance between what your loved one can and can’t do, and remember that this will change from day to day.
5. Refrain from offering choices. Simple questions like what your loved one wants for dinner or where they want to spend the holiday becomes difficult with dementia. Since your loved one probably has difficulty making decisions, it’s better to make them for them. Remember, use direct sentences and a gentle tone of voice.
6. You can’t do it all. You are a caregiver, not a superhero. You can’t do it all, so don’t expect that from yourself. Know that you will need help, and it’s okay to accept it. Caregivers often feel selfish when they take breaks, but the fact is that you can’t be a good caregiver unless you take care of yourself first.