Watching a parent or loved one slowly succumb to dementia is painful and emotional. It often begins with subtle changes such as forgetfulness, but, in order for you to detect that it is in fact dementia, there must be two types of impairment. The challenge is the fact that these tend to be very subtle changes that can continue to get worse over months, or even years.
Initially, you may find your loved one to be forgetful, such as misplacing keys or not remembering why they walked into a room. Often this is paired with communication issues like not being able to remember the right word when speaking. We all have moments like these, which is why it can be difficult to detect unless you spend a considerable amount of time with your parent or loved one.
When your loved one is officially diagnosed with dementia, which can be caused by several different things, from Alzheimer’s to brain trauma, there are many feelings that can surface. The first is often guilt, followed by grief and loss, and, naturally, anger and frustration. These are all normal and, while everyone reacts differently, it is essential to process the emotions that arise when faced with a diagnosis of dementia.
It is often the first emotion we feel when we get the news our loved one has dementia: Guilt over not seeing it sooner or because how we have treated our loved one in the past because of their behavior can be overwhelming. If the condition has progressed far enough that your loved one needs to be put into a facility where they can get full time care, guilt over not being able to keep them home longer can surface as well.
There are many reasons we look to blame ourselves for what is happening, and these emotions can manifest in a variety of ways. The important thing is to identify the guilt and the reason behind it.
Working with your loved one’s social worker or in-home caregiver can help you process these emotions, as they have years of experience and know your loved one as well. It’s like having an outside-insider to the situation, coupled with professional experience. They can help you navigate the uncharted waters of the relationship you will be developing with your loved one.
Feeling the Loss
As your loved one’s condition progresses, it may seem as though they are becoming a different person. All the things you loved about them, how you shared inside jokes or exchanged glances in certain situations, slowly become a memory. You are now faced with how to incorporate your memories of them into a relationship with the person they are today. The loss can be devastating.
Reconnecting with your loved one can seem impossible but it is so important to remember they are still the person who showed you love through their delicious cooking or any little special thing they did for you. When it is a parent—the person who raised you, was strong for you, brought you up to be the person you are today—you have to remind yourself that they are that same person. You are their memory now. You hold the key to the connection of your relationship.
This may seem like the most difficult thing in the world to face, but you can and have the strength to be everything your loved ones needs you to be now that their life has completely changed. The loss can feel overwhelming, but they are still with you, no matter how far the dementia has progressed. If you are able to have an in-home caregiver, they can assist you with reconnecting with your loved one to ensure you maintain a rich and fulfilling relationship for the remainder of time you may have together.
Frustration at the Situation
As one of the stages of grief, it is completely understandable that anger will be an emotion you encounter. You might be angry at caregivers if you feel they aren’t doing enough, or frustration being a caregiver and being tied to your loved one’s needs twenty-four hours a day. You could even feel anger and frustration at your loved one because of their behavior or the constant need for your care and time. All of this is completely normal.
If you have made the choice to be the primary caregiver for your loved one with dementia, it wouldn’t hurt to look into a part time in-home caregiver. Many primary caregivers find themselves as the invisible patient, meaning they are suffering without any kind of care or solutions for their challenges and pain. Often caregivers suffer from depression and social isolation, which can result in the need for counseling and, in some cases, medication to help alleviate the symptoms.
When a loved one is going through the progressive stages of dementia, it can take a serious toll on the family, what with the time spent working with caregivers and the emotional drain you experience as the person you know and love slips deeper into their own world. Partner with your loved one’s caregivers, doctors, and social workers so that you, too, have a voice and can learn how to reconnect with your aging parent or partner.