Witnessing the decline of a parent is a very difficult experience. When an older adult has certain health challenges, like Alzheimer’s disease, their ability to care for themselves rapidly declines. They may become dependent either on their adult children or on professional caregivers, like employees at a nursing home.
Oftentimes, family members try to provide direct support for an older adult with dementia. They may have their loved one move into their home. What do children caring for their aging parents need to know about safely supporting someone with dementia?
Handle legal matters early
Dementia is one of those rare medical issues that can eliminate someone’s testamentary capacity. Those who struggle with understanding and navigating reality cannot draft legally-binding agreements anymore. Some of their existing estate planning or elder law documents may lose their authority.
For example, powers of attorney that do not include the necessary language to make them durable documents may become useless when an older adult declines due to dementia. Durable powers of attorney may retain their authority even when someone permanently loses their testamentary capacity. If there aren’t durable powers of attorney in place, the child caring for their parent may need to seek a guardianship to take control over medical and financial matters.
Make daily life predictable
Dealing with someone who has dementia can be a frustrating experience, as they may struggle to properly respond in a host of different circumstances. Like children who still need to learn how to navigate the world, adults with dementia thrive when their situation is predictable. Keeping the daily schedule the same and maintaining a space that feels like home for them by including personal objects can help ground them in their current experience and make them more comfortable. Those with dementia may want to maintain a calendar or journal of their own that they can review to remind themselves of their circumstances.
Keep spaces accessible but secure
Living with someone who has dementia can present a lot of challenges. They may wander or try to engage in activities that could lead to injury. Families therefore need to secure their spaces while also making necessary amenities, like bathrooms, easily accessible. Proper lighting, clear paths to limit falls and door handles instead of knobs can all help older adults navigate safe spaces in their homes. Families may need to lock certain rooms, keep chemicals and lighters out of reach and use other childproofing safety tools, like cabinet latches.
Providing in-home support for someone with dementia can increase their comfort as long as the family approaches the situation in thoughtful ways and as long as they seek support – including legal guidance – whenever necessary.