Is Dad's slipping memory due to dementia or stress?
In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says it's important to recognize when a caregiver is under a lot of strain.
Dear Carol: My dad’s 79 and I’ve been worried about his memory. Mom’s got Alzheimer’s and he’s been her only caregiver for six years, so that pushes him to the limit. I know that’s part of his problem, but I’m worried about him getting dementia. I kept after him until he finally said that he’d talk to his doctor about his memory.
Well, he did that, and the doctor did an office test but said that he’s fine, just stressed. I’ve read where in-office tests aren’t all that good, so what do I do now? Dad’s healthy but I hate to see future deterioration in his functioning if that can be prevented with early medication. How do I get him to another doctor for a diagnosis? — GW.
Dear GW: You’re being an attentive adult child and your suggestion that your dad see his doctor was a good one. Now, I’d give the doctor credit for taking the request seriously and recognizing the fact that your dad is under a lot of strain. Unless your dad’s memory and decision-making seem to worsen significantly, there might be better places for your focus, at least for now.
What he most likely needs to do is to recognize that nearly all dementia caregivers will eventually require help if only to protect their own health. I keep repeating this concept, but many caregivers need to hear it applied specifically to them before it hits home. So, put it to him plainly: If he doesn’t take better care of himself now, he may not be around to be your mom’s advocate in the future.
Sometimes, it’s easiest to start with in-home caregivers because that doesn’t seem like such a drastic change. If he hired someone to help half-days, he could at least go out if he chose or just get some sleep if that’s his biggest priority.
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The other choice, which could be considered now or after he tries in-home care for a while, would be placing your mom in memory care. I’m thinking that in your mom’s case, memory care might be the best choice from the start, but your dad would have to decide what he thinks would work best. COVID isn’t a big issue in care homes now if your parents are vaccinated, so that concern is manageable.
If your mom goes into memory care, she’d have expert care and more socialization. Also, your dad could once again become her husband rather than her overworked, overstressed caregiver. That means he could visit with her, comfort her and have some fun with her while the staff does the ongoing, hands-on work.
Unfortunately, these changes are expensive. You could help by taking him to see an elder care attorney to see how to make some outside care feasible considering their financial situation.
If after changes are made and he has had time to rest and recover he still seems to need more cognitive assessment, then you could consider asking him to see a memory specialist.
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.