Health & Medical Health Care

Adapting Your Mindset to Dealing With Dementia

The hardest part of becoming the caregiver to a dementia patient is that quite often that person is a trusted and respected parent.
All of a sudden you can find yourself taking care of someone who has been taking care of you all your life as a parent or grandparent.
Because of the nature of dementia, your relationship to that person is going to change dramatically.
You cannot be "in this together" with a dementia patient.
Realizing this takes a while but it is essential for both you and the patient.
Dementia can come on quickly or slowly, but it is the unevenness of the process that is the most cruel: the moments of lucidity that, in the beginning at least, allow you to think that there has been a reversal, or to hope that the strange lapses in behavior are the exception and not the rule.
"Hope springs eternal" is such a natural thing and yet it can play real havoc with the mindset of a caregiver.
A month or so after I moved in with my mother whose physical and mental health was seriously declining, I remember sending an elated e-mail to my sister describing an evening where my mother was able to check her bank books doing the subtractions mentally (she doesn't use a calculator nor write the figures as she is calculating), make snide remarks about my handwriting and discuss the upcoming bills.
I was thrilled and convinced myself that she was on the road to recovery.
In my mind, all it had required was that I move in to provide some support since at 87, it was "normal" that she have "off" days.
I literally managed to "forget" all I had witnessed during the previous month! I did sleep well that night, thank goodness, since the next morning, it was obvious that she again couldn't grasp what was going on around her, accusing me of stealing her car keys and giving her unprescribed medication.
My mindset was not properly attuned in those days: the crash was much stronger than the elation.
I was devastated.
Elation is based on an illusion, usually self-created, the crash is reality.
So how do you deal with it? How do you stop feeling like a yo-yo? Every person is different so I can only tell you what worked for me.
I shortened the string.
The elation-moments you feel in dealing with a dementia patient come from sudden moments of recognition of the "old" mother, father, etc.
and the subsequent almost irrepressible hope.
I have found that they come out of the blue and are so unexpected that they are like a intense flash, often bringing on tears of joy.
Over the months though, I worked really hard on my mindset, so much so that the first time I heard my mother make a joke, I was able to laugh at the joke rather than get all choked up.
It was so like her old self.
These moments should definitely be enjoyed and are, in fact, what makes caregiving so rewarding: the realization that thanks to your care, the patient can, on occasion, recuperate part of his or her "old" self and enjoy those moments together with you.
But you should never forget: it is "on occasion" and "part".
If you can hold on to that reality, then the elation moments will be more tempered and the crashes more cushioned.
Avoiding mood swings is essential, accepting the status quo is too.
I never think about the future since it is a pointless exercise.
I am here for my mother until she goes.
How can I make plans for the future since there is no way to know when she will go, nor even who I will be after living through her decline and death.
I am quite a practical person: I have dealt with the legal questions and come to certain decisions about how I will take care of my mother when her care goes beyond my own mental or physical capacities.
I feel fully supported by my family and I am comfortable with my present mindset.
What more can one ask? My mother is going through a good patch, we take each day as it comes.
I try to keep her moving and participating as much as possible and for the moment, it's working.
I tell myself positiveness breeds positiveness: I try to make her situation pleasant and she, in turn, is more aware of me and responding positively.
I am enjoying these days without thinking about the future and the downturn that it will inevitably bring.
What earthly good would that do?

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