Minding Our Elders: Mom’s dementia difficult for visitorsDEAR CAROL: My mom is 83 and has Lewy body dementia. She’s lived with me just under a year and it’s going well except for when she has visitors. I’m happy that some of her old friends want to come by and see her. I’m also aware that she’s hard to visit with because her attention span is shrinking and her memory is getting worse.
By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM
DEAR CAROL: My mom is 83 and has Lewy body dementia. She’s lived with me just under a year and it’s going well except for when she has visitors. I’m happy that some of her old friends want to come by and see her. I’m also aware that she’s hard to visit with because her attention span is shrinking and her memory is getting worse.
What’s happening, though, is that when her friends come over some are staying for most of the afternoon, yet these same people insist that I stay with them during the visit. Why are they so insistent I stay when they took time to come over, supposedly to see Mom? – Karen
DEAR KAREN: I believe your mom’s friends really want to help but they are uncomfortable with her wandering attention and failing memory so they depend on you to make their visit easier. It’s possible that those who like to come and stay the afternoon are actually looking for an outing for themselves, yet they want to believe that they are doing something for their friend at the same time. Which they are. The problem is that their extended stays requiring your continued presence are complicating your life. You need to ask for some accommodations.
I’d talk quietly with your mom’s friends and let them know that you’re grateful for their time. Emphasize that it means the world to her that she’s not forgotten. Also, acknowledge that your mom is hard to talk with and that it takes patience to sit with her.
By now you know which of your mom’s friends want to stay for a long visit and which of them just want to stop by for half an hour. You could mention to the visitors who like to stay longer that you’ll buy some classic DVDs with “I Love Lucy,” “Lawrence Welk,” or other favorites for them to share with your mom. You may even ask for their input as to what they’d enjoy. That should help make the time they spend with her go more smoothly. Then let them know that you have work to do but that you’ll be nearby. You may even want to pop in on them now and then to show your support.
For people who prefer shorter visits, old photo albums from times your mom spent with these friends could help. You may want to ask very close friends if they have any pictures of their own from times that your mom would remember and enjoy. The idea is to provide a diversion and also give them something to discuss. They won’t feel so lost if your mom’s attention wanders.
There are some visitors who want to keep the time they spend short. It’s still nice that they stop by. These people may need you there if they are to visit at all. It’s likely that your mom benefits from the visits, so encourage them as much as possible.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.