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5 Tips to Thrive as a Caregiver for a Senior with Dementia

Jan 15, 2020

Are you a caregiver for a parent or spouse who has Dementia?

Do you live in the same city but find that life is busy and as much as you try to care for your parent it never seems like enough?

Or does your parent live further away and do you struggle with wishing you could do more?

Here are 5 ways in which you can care for your parent and at the same time care for yourself.

1. Do What you Can and Let Go of the Guilt.

How often do you have good intentions to check everything off your “to do” list, but you find there’s always a few more items left over that didn’t get done?

As good as your intentions are, it’s important to realize that we must be happy with what we do accomplish and that it’s ok to let go of the rest.

The same can be said about caring for a parent with dementia.

You may feel that you could always do more to help them. (And this is probably true!)

You could spend hours with them and it never seems like enough. You may tell them what the plan is for today, and immediately after, they ask you the same question. They tell you the same stories over and over.

Make a decision about how much time and energy you can give to your parent, while maintaining your own health and responsibilities. Different times in life can be busier than others. Maybe you have kids that are demanding extra attention, your partner needs you, or work may be picking up right now.

When you spend time with your parent, be fully present when you are with them. Put away your phone. Leave distractions at the door. Enjoy the moment with them, because most people with dementia live in the moment.

And when you leave your parent, give yourself permission to let go of the guilt of not doing more. You are amazing, caring and you are doing the best you can!

2. The Importance of Movement for your Parent…and You!

“Meg, on the days you exercise with my dad, I notice him standing straighter, he is happier and less confused.”

Many people with dementia lose their initiative to exercise or maintain physical activity on their own.

Have you noticed that the senior in your life spends most days sitting down?

When seniors with dementia are active, there is more blood flow to their brain. Their joints and muscles become stronger. Their mental health improves. They will sleep better. 

And… the same benefits are there for you too!

If you live in the same city as your parent, take them for a walk down the hallway when you visit. Maybe they use a walker or are in a wheelchair. A change of environment can be so positive for your parent, and it can help to spark conversation as well.

If you live out of town, ask the main caregivers to encourage your parent to move and stretch with them. Look into group exercise classes that are in their building and find someone to accompany them there.

For yourself, I invite you to build a simple exercise regime that you can begin your day with. Start your day with some yoga stretches and breathing. Go for a short power walk at lunch. End your day with some neck and back stretches to relieve any lingering stress.

Notice the difference that exercise makes for you…it has the same benefits for your parent!

3. Share with others for Emotional Support 

We are not meant to go through challenges alone.

Find a support group of people who also have parents with dementia. There are online groups and in-person groups.

Open up to a close friend about what you are going through-the good, the bad and the ugly. It will give them the opportunity to be vulnerable with you when you share with them.

Does your senior parent no longer recognize you as their child? Do you no longer see them as the parent who raised you or the spouse you married?

This can be heartbreaking.

We all need support as we journey through life. Find your support system who you can share with.

4. Let Go of Control to Go with the Flow

There are so many things out of our control. You may live far away from mom or dad. Your parent may be showing signs of extreme decline or aggression.

There may not be any verbal communication from your parent.

Your own health may not be 100% right now. You may be losing the person you once knew and who supported you.

I heard about a young woman who was getting married and she wanted her father to walk her down the aisle and be at her destination wedding in Jamaica. The only problem was that her father had fast progressing dementia and wasn’t physically or mentally capable of flying overseas. Although the daughter had a dream of having her father with her in Jamaica, she went with the flow and let go of her expectations.

A week before the wedding, she put on her wedding dress and got some great photos with her father in the residence where he lived. She was happy to have her dad involved in the way that was best for him.

We may not be in control of everything, but we can control our response and our attitude.

Ask yourself: What 5 things are you grateful for about your parent? What lessons has your parent or spouse taught you? How are you growing in this new season of life?

5. Speak to your Parent in a Way they can Understand

Depending on the level of dementia your parent has, you may have to change how you communicate with them. Instead of asking your parent if they want to go for a walk. (They may respond with: “No!”) You can instead say, “Ok, Mom, it’s time for us to go outside. Let’s get those shoes on!”

Keep things simple. Try not to over complicate things with too many details.

If your parent is convinced that it’s 1955 and their favorite baseball team is playing, ask yourself if its worth arguing with them about it.

Pick your battles and focus on being in the present moment with your family member. 

Share love and bring up happy memories that you can talk about.

As I meet with many families with seniors with dementia, I am reminded of how strong these families are. It’s not always easy, but choosing to ask for support, taking care of your own health, and letting go of the guilt can all help to make the time with your senior parent all the better.

Meg Stickl

Owner and Personal Trainer, AIM Fitness

Meg Stickl is an Older Adult Fitness Expert and the Founder of AIM Fitness- a local Ottawa Mobile Fitness Company specializing in Adults 50+.

Meg and her team love seeing their one-on-one Personal Training Clients gain strength and energy. Meg is passionate about sharing her knowledge about aging and fitness in the community, and she loves to travel to New York City and Jamaica!

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