I interviewed my dear, sweet niece about this topic since she has been dealing with a grandparent with dementia moving in with her family, and I knew that as a 21-year-old she could provide some pointers for those of you dealing with the same issue. Kelly’s grandfather moved in with them almost 3 years ago. What’s sad is that he is still very physically active at age 87! He gets bored very easily, as he was used to doing things in his yard and going wherever he wanted or needed to go, and this brings frustration that he can’t drive any longer or be on his own. I asked Kelly what she would tell other young women her age who were adjusting to dealing with a grandparent with dementia, and these are the pointers she shared with me.
Dealing with a grandparent with dementia is so difficult. As much as one would have to have patience with an infant or toddler, you have to have that and more to deal with an adult who was once an independent person and who now is solely dependent on family to care for them. Patience is first and foremost a must when dealing with a grandparent with dementia. If you lose your patience, they lose theirs, and the results are never good.
Remember that your grandparent once raised your parents and cared for you as well. They were someone who worked, traveled, and enjoyed life. Perhaps put one of your favorite pictures of your grandparent where you can see it every day and remember WHO you are caring for now. They are still that person, only they have a medical condition that they have no control over. Respect the person they once were and know that despite their illness, they are still that person.
At 21 or any age, it’s difficult to imagine yourself in your grandparent’s shoes. Think about it, though. Who would you want caring for you if you were a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient? It could be a stranger in a nursing home, but wouldn’t you rather it be a family member? Remember to empathize. They aren’t doing it on purpose when they yell at you for no reason, when they can’t help themselves to another room, or when they can’t manage a button or zipper. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were in their position.
Patience and tolerance may be similar, but I think patience goes along with waiting for them if they walk very slowly, the fact that they may take longer to eat their dinner, or realizing grandpa simply has to go about things at a slower pace. Tolerance is knowing that he may do and say things that he has no control over and on top of your patience comes tolerating the behavior without getting upset with him. You will have to tolerate things such as he may drop a piece of your favorite china, he easily spills things or drops food on his clothing, or he may even forget to shut the water off after getting a drink or brushing his teeth. We have to be tolerant.
My mother’s husband is also in the beginning stages of dementia. One thing his neurologist said to my mom was to keep things familiar. As much as you’d like to rearrange the family room, don’t do it. Make sure everything stays familiar to your grandparent; keep things the same and make sure his or her things are arranged as they want them so they can find things easily.
This may be a tough one for some, especially when it seems like your parents have no time for you. Remember that your parents are more than likely very stressed out, and as empathetic as you are to your grandparent, be the same for your parents. Help out as much as you can and when you can, give your parents a break. Let them go out for the evening, to a movie or dinner, and you can bet they will really appreciate your kindness.
There will be times when you simply have to let things out and have a good cry. It’s okay to do that. It is best not to do this in front of your grandparent, of course, so in your own room take some time for yourself. Cry, get angry, journal, put your ear-buds in and turn the music up loud, anything you need to shed the emotional upset. You will have to do this because you will miss your grandparent the way they used to be and the sadness can be overwhelming. There may be a day where they seem like there is nothing wrong, and the next day, they are confused and have no idea what’s going on around them. Let it out. Cry that ugly cry. It’s okay.
I think about my niece and her family all the time. I know the difficulty they are dealing with, as my grandmother’s husband suffered with Alzheimer’s, and now my mother’s husband may be dealing with it sooner than later. Yes, it’s a sad disease, but remember, there are support groups for your family, for you, and you can all support each other. Kelly knows firsthand, so take these tips to heart, share them with your siblings or your parents, and I’m sure you’ll be able to handle things a little more easily.
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