Dear Carol: My dad has dementia and has lived with me for three years. Around the first of this year, I was beginning to feel that he was unsafe being at home alone, so I had looked into a memory care unit in one of our community assisted living facilities. Then the virus threat arrived and my employment switched to the “working from home” mode. This has helped in some ways since I’m home with dad.
What is driving me nuts, or I should say more nuts than it used to, is that he’s so clingy. He needs to see me in my home office to remember that I’m there, and when he sees me, he asks me the same question that he asked five minutes before. The work I do is customer support, so you can imagine how his behavior is impacting my job. I’m single, so there is no partner to distract him when I’m busy. How do I do this? — PK.
Dear PK: Trying to work with someone who needs you all the time is tough. I’m sorry for you both that this is happening. For many, though, it’s part of the new reality of working from home, so you aren’t alone.
Solutions? Could you hire in-home help during some of your work time? You may not need an agency for this since it’s likely temporary and you’d be there to supervise, as well. It’s possible that you may even have a friend who’s lost a job so they could use the money. Of course, this must be a person who you’d trust with cognitively challenged older adults and who would also observe strict protocols to avoid passing on COVID-19.
Otherwise, agencies are working in most communities and their professional caregivers are trained, so that can make them a reasonably safe option. Having another person to reassure your dad and distract him should help with the clinging.
Your dad is probably experiencing the same type of anxiety that many people with dementia have — that of confusion about nearly every aspect of his life. His anxiety could be increased now, though. He probably forgets the facts about the virus threat, but he can still feel your emotional stress and he’s likely to see or hear at least some news, as well.
Repeated questioning can stem from memory issues, but this can also arise from anxiety. Usually, just reassurance followed by providing a distraction can help with this frustrating dementia trait. So again, having someone else there to take care of your dad during at least part of your workday should prove helpful.
Reminding ourselves of the maxim that is often repeated in dementia circles can help: Our friend, parent or spouse is not giving us a hard time, he or she is having a hard time. Eventually, although the model will probably look different, the assisted living facility will open up to new clients.
For now, in-home help, while not 100-percent safe, might be worth trying.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.