The end of the school year is almost here and students everywhere are cramming for exams. It’s the season for all-nighters as some textbooks are being cracked open for the first time all semester! 

 

After a year of learning, students are tested to see just how much they’ve learned—or how much they can retain at the end of the year.  But there is a group of people who should never feel like it’s exam time, and that is anyone who has dementia.

 

 

People who have dementia should not feel that they’re being tested.  You’re probably thinking “most people with dementia don’t go to school, so what are you talking about?!?”

I’m talking about every day conversation.

 

For people with dementia, ever day conversation can start to feel like an exam.  Much of our basic conversation is comprised of questions and answers.  But those questions typically rely upon memory.  Sometimes, there is even an implication that the answer can be right or wrong….and guessing the wrong answer can make someone feel embarrassed or not very smart.

 

For someone with dementia, a typical conversation starter such as “what did you do last weekend?” suddenly becomes a test.  It relies upon short term memory from a few days ago.  It is a fact-based question where the typical response recounts an itinerary or agenda.  But if you can’t remember what you did yesterday or three days ago, or an hour ago, suddenly this typical conversation starter feels like a test.

 

Questions such as “did you go to the market?” imply a right or wrong answer.  Someone with dementia might recognize that answering “yes”, tends to lead to the follow up question “what did you buy?” which becomes another test of short term memory.  Sometimes people resort to saying “no” to such questions just to avoid being asked any follow up questions.

 

When having a conversation with someone who has dementia, aim to ask opinion based question. The beauty of an opinion based question is that it cannot be right or wrong—it is your opinion.  Instead of saying “did you go to the market?” you can instead ask “do you enjoy going to the market?” Once you get a conversation started about the market, you might help to trigger the memory for your loved one who can suddenly remember “I went to the market the other day!”  When not faced with the “test” of trying to remember, they may be better able to access the memory.

 

Asking about opinions or feelings keeps the conversation open and in the present tense.  Opinions are always in-this-moment, as we all reserve the right to change our opinions over time. Opinions don’t rely on short or long term memory. Opinions are not inherently right or wrong.  Expressing opinions and feelings rather than talking about facts and dates will allow someone with dementia to more fully participate in the conversation without feeling like they’re being tested.

 

So while this may be season for final exams, leave that to the students who are cramming, and let your loved ones with dementia have a free pass with no tests!

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You’ve been managing your own household, your parents’ household and now your in-laws need some help too.  You already feel stretched too thin, and your parents’ needs keep increasing. You need homecare support for your parents, but they refuse to even consider it.

 

Your father says he “doesn’t need a babysitter” and your mother declares that she can “do everything just fine myself”.  And by that, what she really means is that you are doing everything just fine for them!

 

Your parents think they’re managing just fine because you’re filling in all the gaps.  They don’t realize just how much you’re doing. They just benefit from the fact that everything gets done.

 

For years, you’ve been trying to follow your parent’s wishes.  You respect their decisions and do your best to help support them in those decisions. They keep saying they don’t want or need any help and you’ve been trying to respect it.

 

The problem is, they not only need the help, but they are also already receiving help.  The help is coming from you, and it’s now more than you can manage on your own.   It is okay to acknowledge that you can no longer provide all the assistance that they need.  You aren’t failing to respect their decision, you are making a decision that is necessary for your own health and wellness.

 

 

You can explain to your parents what you are able to do, and outline the tasks that are now becoming too much.  You can outline options for how your parents can fill the remaining gaps and empower them to make a decision that best suits their needs. For example, you are willing to do the weekly grocery shopping and visit with your parents after putting all the groceries away, but it is no longer feasible for you to be cooking dinner for them every day.

 

You can then outline meal options for them.  They could order Meals on Wheels or another meal delivery service. They could move into a retirement home where meals are provided. They can have a caregiver cook meals together with them in their own kitchen, using their own preferred recipes.

 

You can help outline the pros and cons of each option, and how each option would fit into their lifestyle.

 

Stepping back and acknowledging what you need for yourself does not take away your parents’ ability to make their own decision. It just eliminates one of the options from the list—the option of you cooking the meals daily.

 

As long as you continue to be the primary option, as long as you continue to cook dinner daily, your parents will not seriously consider any other option on the list.  You need to clearly articulate what you can and cannot do, and then guide your parents through the decision making process about how to solve the remaining gaps.

 

Homecare can address many of those gaps and provide the individualized attention and assistance they are accustomed to receiving.  Homecare is not always just about the senior client; it is often about alleviating family members who have been doing far more than is sustainable. 

 

A wonderful caregiver - or team of caregivers - can take care of your parents' to do list so that it doesn't all fall on your shoulders.

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