Last month I reviewed the past five years of Kupuna Transitions articles and gave some condensed thoughts about some of the topics that had come up over that span of time. There was too much content for one month’s column, so I’d like to zero in on some options for those helping an individual with cognitive challenges.
When someone demonstrates signs of memory impairment, it is often family and friends who do step in and offer help. The individual’s medical professional is usually the first place they start, and I hope loved ones will continue to seek support through organizations like the Hawaii County Office of Aging and local Alzheimer’s Association expert Patrick Toal, as well.
Community resources are critical, as there are choices that need to be made regarding care and living arrangements, along with legal documents that need to be put in place. Many people feel that they are smart enough to be able to tackle these things on their own, but what they may not consider is the power of experience. Therefore, educating oneself through the guidance of professionals can be a great help based on tried and true approaches. Support groups also provide camaraderie and tips to help the person who is helping others.
Collaboration in family caregiving situations is also very important. Being on the same page as many different personalities come together is not simple. Finding common ground based on their love for someone needing help is essential, and supporting each other through this dynamic does improve the whole experience. Even if you don’t always agree on the best course of action, honoring each other’s ideas and gently stating your own reasons behind your choices can be a good starting point.
Often there is a primary care giver who holds on to the reigns of responsibility and has a hard time utilizing the support around them. Sometimes they feel they are the only one who can do it all correctly. Learning how to let go of the idea that they are now scripting the other person’s life story will hopefully help that individual allow others to feel valuable to the situation.
Being in a 24/7 dynamic with a loved one who needs our full attention and support can also shift the balance of the relationship, as there is so much to be responsible for. We often help someone based on meaningful past experiences that connect us to each other, so reflecting upon and discussing those good times will help keep the true nature of the relationship in a positive light. If they get all of the details wrong, avoid confusing them with the facts and join them in their world. They say that ignorance is bliss for a reason, so let their mind take them where it may if it feels good to them.
It is also helpful to remember that the individual did not ask for this and is on a challenging journey of their own. Bad behavior in those with some type of dementia is not personal, but rather a symptom of the disease. If it feels difficult to offer kind and patient support, that is a clear sign that you are in too deep and are doing too much. Time away from the care situation can be very nourishing, and can help you return to the house with a lighter approach.
I hope these words are helpful, and wish you all humor amid the chaos of care!
Karyn Clay is a gerontological specialist who earned her B.A. in gerontology from SDSU in 1998. She founded HooNani Day Center in 2002 and HooNani Care Home in 2015, which make up HooNani Adult Care Services, Inc. and are located on the same property in Kamuela. She invites you to join her Caregiver Conversations gatherings at Tutu’s House and Dementia Support Group at HooNani, each held once a month. You may send column topic requests to Karyn at email@example.com.