One in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and nearly 16 million family members and friends are caregivers. Loretta Veney’s book “Being My Mom’s Mom” outlines many practical do’s and don’ts culled from her own experience with her mother. Here are a few:
– Pay attention to the warning signs. Veney’s mother lived in a retirement community for several years before her dementia was diagnosed, and there were a few early indications that Veney later realized were significant: forgetting to go to an exercise class that she regularly attended, for example, and not being able to find common items in the grocery store where she shopped every week.
“This may not seem like a big deal, but my mom is a creature of habit,” Veney writes. “Not being able to remember where to find always purchased items should have been a key for me.”
– Don’t wait to take financial control. It can be difficult to persuade a parent to hand over control of bank accounts, but Veney says it’s crucial to ensure that a person with dementia doesn’t become vulnerable to con artists or fail to pay essential bills, a problem that did happen with Veney’s mother. “I found it very helpful to write down what I wanted to say, and then practice before delivering it,” Veney advises. “Rehearsing beforehand helps in case the meeting becomes emotional.”
– Find the right doctor. Dementia patients require a caring approach from physicians, Veney says, particularly because some medications can have such serious side effects as hallucinations, which can be frightening. Veney found a new neurologist for her mother when the first one had what Veney felt was an impatient bedside manner, saying of the new doctor, “She greets my mom as if they are old friends and is always encouraging.” This doctor also always asks Veney’s mother for permission to ask questions of Veney, which allows her mother to feel that she is being treated respectfully.
– Keep making memories. While Veney’s mother may no longer have the capacity to retain memories, her daughter continues to make them anyway – at least for herself – taking her on frequent outings to local parks, to visit old friends and to listen to music. She also takes photos whenever they are together, which can serve a practical purpose when her mother forgets that she has already eaten dessert. “When my mom says fussily, ‘I don’t know why you won’t let me get dessert,’ ” Veney writes, “I quickly show her the picture of her enjoying her cake, pie, or ice cream minutes earlier. Once she sees the evidence, her protests immediately end.”