Books, open forums, support groups, blogs: there are numerous platforms that offer advice on what to do when your loved one has dementia. A simple Google search alone yields over 1.5 million results in half a second. While often helpful and insightful, I’ve come to find that there’s a benefit to learning what not to do, as well, especially when given relatable examples that might just sound familiar. As promised, below are five easy steps to drive yourself crazy when caring for your loved one with dementia:
- Orient them to reality: Due to the nature of her disease, your nonna may revert back to another period of time in her life that she now believes to be the present. It’s possible that you’ll find her worrying about her parents who reside nearby, not in Heaven, or a job she’s still committed to, not retired from. When such situations arise and anxiety and confusion persist, comfort her by bringing her back to reality. Firmly remind her that it’s 2017, she’s 96 years old, and obviously completely losing it.
- Argue: On a similar note, once you’ve explained to your nonna that she does not, in fact, have to catch the 5:00 bus, listen to her rebuttal. Consider the points she’s made and quickly call attention to their absurdity. Laugh at the ridiculousness and respond accordingly, reminding her that she hasn’t lived in Hoboken in 35 years and her place of employment is now a parking garage. Oh, and the mom and dad she’s worried about? They’re dead. Duh!
- Repeat yourself: When brought back to the present, it’s not uncommon for your nonno to voice concerns. After all, he’s living in a totally different reality than that which was just described to him. He’ll have some questions, surely, and your answers are important. If and when he’s still perplexed, simply repeat yourself: seriously, say the exact same thing you just stated as if he didn’t hear you. Works every time!
- Rush them: Patience is to be practiced on naive children, not seniors who should know better. If your nonno seems to be having a difficult time following through with trivial, everyday tasks like getting dressed, try a tough-love approach. Put some pressure on him: set time limits and outline strict consequences. Stress can be a motivator, too!
- Expect them to be who they’ve always been (and take it personally when they’re not): In the same breath, keep in mind that older people are set in their ways. Not only does your nonna know what she’s doing, she’s also got a motive behind her actions. Know the games she plays and don’t feed into them; make it clear you’re not down for nonsense and encourage her to get it together or else (nursing home, anyone?!).
Seriously, I cringed just typing the above. Unless you simultaneously hate your nonno and love self-harm, please don’t practice anything on this list. In fact, do the opposite. My examples may read humorous and even a bit extreme, but it’s not uncommon for caregivers to find themselves in similar, equally frustrating situations. Always keep in mind that what you’re now experiencing is the disease, not the loved one you once knew. Be patient and be kind. To keep yourself from truly going crazy, just go with the flow; dementia’s demons foster arguments you will never win and changes you cannot control. The only one whose outlook can be altered is your own.