While Alzheimer’s and dementia may affect individuals, the entire family experiences the effects of memory and cognitive impairment, relying on one another to navigate this stressful time. While it may seem like there’s nothing we can do for our loved ones once the effects of dementia worsen, there is an important role to be played by family throughout memory care treatment. In fact, this role begins long before treatment.
Deciding When It’s Time for Memory Care
Dementia is often slow-moving. Cognitive impairment sets in gradually, with symptoms progressing from inconvenient to unsafe. Those suffering from dementia are grappling with a range of emotions, from anger to confusion to embarrassment. They may miss when things crossover from inconvenient to unsafe, or they may simply not want to acknowledge it, at least not to others. Saying it out loud means facing things head-on, from the loss of memory to the likely possibility of leaving their home.
The role of family is key when it comes to answering the question “Is it time for memory care?” Taking note of behavioral changes, worrying behaviors, or other indicators of dementia will help to answer that question. As family members, we often know our loved ones best, and therefore can notice deviations from the norm earlier than most.
Once dementia begins to set it, there are a lot of difficult choices to be made. Here at The Woodleigh, we’ve spoken with many families who found these decisions easier to navigate by talking through them with elder loved ones before dementia sets in. Especially if there is a history of Alzheimer’s or dementia in your family, it can help to start the conversation about potential courses of action when family members are still healthy. The conversation may be difficult to have, and may take a few tries, but getting that input from loved ones before their cognitive abilities begin to decline can help provide peace of mind when it comes time to make difficult decisions later on.
Working with the Memory Care Team
Once you’ve made the decision to seek memory care for your loved one, it comes time to choose a memory care facility. But even after this process is complete and you’ve found the right facility for your loved one, it’s important to remember that family members can still play an important role as custodians of their loved one’s care. It’s common for family members to feel guilty when placing their loved one in memory care, almost as if they’re “handing off” their loved one to others. But the truth is, memory care is a “team sport,” with ongoing collaboration between family members and nurses leading to the most favorable outcome for residents..
Your loved one’s care team is dedicated to doing everything possible to make their experience in memory care the best it can be. To do that, insight from family members is always welcome. Sit down with the care team at your loved one’s memory care facility before they check in and pass along any information you feel would be helpful. Maybe the facility brings in therapy animals, a practice that has been shown to provide wonderful benefits for those suffering from dementia. However, if your loved one has long harbored a fear of, say, dogs, they may react poorly to a visit from a therapy animal. Information like this is incredibly valuable to your loved one’s memory care team.
There are many things to watch out for when someone is suffering from dementia. Often times, nutrition can suffer. Pain management can also be a challenge; many times, dementia patients may not be able to express where they’re feeling pain. Your loved one’s memory care team is well-versed in addressing these challenges. However, valuable insight is always appreciated. Perhaps your loved one hasn’t grown comfortable with the care staff yet and is more comfortable voicing concerns to you. Or perhaps there are small behaviors that you’ve picked up on that the care team hasn’t learned to recognize yet. Especially at the beginning of your loved one’s time in memory care, sharing these insights can be extremely valuable.
Remember, your loved one’s care team is there to do everything possible for your loved one. Realizing that you’re on the same team and working together helps to create a positive care environment. Apprehensions are normal, so to address them, consider setting a scheduled time to call and check in.
For those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, loneliness and isolation are common. Whether from embarrassment or confusion, patients may not want to interact with others. This exacerbates the chances of falling into depression, another risk for those with dementia. This is where family members can provide the greatest aid to their loved ones—but it can also be the most challenging aspect of memory care for families.
When you choose the right memory care facility, you’re choosing a place that feels like a community, and will become one for your loved one. But that process takes time, and even after it happens, there’s nothing like visits from family and friends. We’ve mentioned several times how, as family members, we know our loved ones best. That means we feel the changes in their behavior and personality most acutely. So while visits are important to our loved ones, they can also be incredibly difficult for us. One of the most important things you can do to aid your loved one’s care is to make sure to take steps to care for yourself and your own well-being.
It’s also important not to feel like you’re the only one who can take on this responsibility of visiting and spending time. Often, extended family members and friends want to help during this difficult time, but they don’t know how. Reach out and let them know how they can help. Encourage them to visit, but prepare them honestly for what to expect. Often times, going in without an understanding of how dementia has affected their friend or family member can make the visit more difficult than it needs to be. Let them know what to expect and help coordinate a time for a visit. This will not only mean a lot to your loved one, but to the family member or friend as well.
If you have any questions about memory care, please give us a call at The Woodleigh of Baton Rouge at 225-272-1401.