By Tim Murray, Aware Senior Care
As adult children of aging parents and the owners of an in-home senior care company, my wife and I have experienced the joys and struggles of caring for a patient with dementia. We became certified dementia trainers through Teepa Snow’s “Positive Approach to Care” program. Teepa is a leader in the field of dementia care, and her certification program taught us so much. According to the National Institutes of Health, dementia affects nearly 14 percent of adults over age 70; chances are that most of us will come into contact with, or one day care for, someone facing its degenerative symptoms.
Knowing how universal this condition is, we urge caregivers, providers and trainers to change how they respond to patients by adopting a more positive approach.
1. In all dementias, at least two parts of the brain, one of the most important organs, are dying. Knowing the full scope of this disease, and how it impacts every function of the body and mind, allows us to give grace and assume the best of everyone involved.
Perhaps an elderly parent has lost their filter and the ability to dress themselves or eat with utensils; those symptoms are clear. Dementia’s impact often extends into struggles I can’t see, though, both with patients and their adult children or caregivers. They may be grappling with their family’s new reality or may be carrying the weight of issues we can’t see.
2. The symptoms of dementia are constantly changing, and as a degenerative disease, its symptoms get progressively worse. That’s a challenging truth, but one that drives us to look for joy today instead of constantly pinning our hopes to the future. Accepting people as they are right now, knowing things will be different later today or tomorrow, keeps us in the present moment. We can find the good right where we are.
3. Dementia is not curable or fixable; no patient can say they are healed. This journey only ends one way, as all of our lives do. This truth frees us to seize what matters to us, live life today, and enjoy what is in front of us. For caregivers, it nudges us to take better care of ourselves, eat well and relax more.
Caregiving has its joys, but it also takes a toll on families. Knowing this can be a stressful journey, we focus on finding a balance between what drains us and what allows us to care for others lovingly.
4. Dementia is terminal. It will result in death; accepting that truth turns our focus to making memories with our loved one while they are here. Cherish the moments, imperfect though they may be, regardless of what symptoms arise. Make the most of your time together so that, when your loved one passes, the memories you have of them will be sweet.
Understanding dementia sheds light on the value of treating everyone – parents, families and caregivers – with compassion and grace.