How to navigate caregiving when a loved one is suffering memory loss.

One of the ultimate acts of love is caring for a loved one as they age. As if this isn’t a complex topic in and of itself, memory issues can further complicate things. Degenerative diseases, like dementia, are more common than many people realize. According to a recent study by Columbia University, almost 10% of U.S. adults ages 65 and older have dementia, and another 22% have mild cognitive impairment.
Deciding when caregiving for an older loved one becomes necessary is difficult, but the first step is having a conversation with them. It can help you determine how to ease the burden of their everyday tasks and assist with their long-term care planning. Understandably, you could be met with some resistance. The potential loss of independence is a common fear, but some may welcome help if they already acknowledge behavioral changes that may put themselves or others at risk.

Warning signs: When is it more than forgetfulness?

Misplacing an item, name, or face every so often is normal. So, it can be hard to know when you’re dealing with a red flag. It’s all too common that we notice the warning signs when an event brings it to light, like doubling up medication or getting lost on their daily walk.

Experts say there’s a marked difference in mild forgetfulness that’s a normal part of aging and signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some signs to look out for when it comes to serious cognitive impairment or dementia:

  • Forgetting recent events, upcoming events, or regular appointments
  • Repeating the same questions or stories
  • Misplacing items often
  • Failing to recall the names of close family or friends
  • Losing focus or getting easily distracted
  • Having trouble coming up with desired words
  • Struggling with paying bills, shopping, cooking and other household tasks
  • Displaying poor judgment or inability to reason or problem-solve

If you’re starting to notice this type of behavior in your loved one, there may be cause for concern. It’s probably time to intervene, and your support and care at this stage can greatly improve your loved one’s quality of life.

A delicate conversation: How to approach your loved one

How do you tell a family member you’re concerned about their well-being without triggering denial or defensiveness? Start by considering the number of people involved in the conversation. Too many people in the discussion can make them feel overpowered and vulnerable. The most important thing to remember is to approach the conversation with compassion and an empathetic tone. They may not realize – or be willing to admit – that they’re experiencing memory issues.

Getting help: Options for providing support

When your family member’s memory begins to fade, your role as a caregiver is essential, providing day-to-day support and planning for the future. In some instances, they may have already put plans in place for when this happens, like moving in with a child willing to become a caregiver or hiring in-home care. You may be able to get a sense of this in your initial conversation. Of course, if this is not the case, you’ll not only need to determine a plan of action for today but think about tomorrow.
In addition to discussing their wishes on where to live, other affairs you should help your family member sort out (sooner rather than later) include:

  • a will
  • a trust
  • a durable power of attorney for finances
  • a living will
  • a durable power of attorney for healthcare

It’s ideal for them to work out their wishes before their memory deteriorates any further. This will give you peace of mind that you’re honoring their hopes and desires as you coordinate caregiving needs.

Finding resources: emerging advancements and unconventional approaches

Although there’s no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, there have been advancements in medications that may help slow the progression of the disease. Most are best used when symptoms first begin and there’s an early diagnosis. The Montessori method for approaching dementia is based on a childhood educator’s philosophies and is gaining momentum with caregivers.

Providing any level of caregiving and support for your loved one as they age can be overwhelming. But remember, there are resources you can leverage to help you (and them) proceed with peace of mind. Honoring their wishes and ensuring their safety is paramount; with open communication and a little understanding, you can be by their side on this journey.