Care considerations for older adults with dementia

In many ways, growing old is the physiological opposite of growing up as a child. Children rapidly become taller as they approach adolescence. Older adults may experience compacting of the spine and joint issues that lead them to shrink in height over time. Children strive toward independence, both social and financial, while older adults begin to move from pure independence back into reliance on loved ones.

As a parent who is also the child of older adults, you may have the opportunity to witness both of these growth cycles up close via your parents and your children. It can be an emotionally tumultuous experience to witness your parents becoming dependent on you for daily needs.

In a situation with a perfectly healthy adult, the ravages of age can be stressful enough. If your parent has Alzheimer's disease or another progressive or degenerative condition that leads to dementia, there are many other concerns you will have to address.

People with dementia require constant care

One of the hallmarks of dementia is an inability to care for oneself or truly understand circumstances. Adults with dementia may not know what age they are, what year it is or the names of their caretakers. Even when family members assume caregiver roles, older adults with dementia may not recognize the people whom they depend on.

Some people with dementia become contentious and combative, while others may attempt to escape from their home, believing they should be elsewhere. In order to keep someone with dementia safe, it is typically necessary for them to receive supervision at all times.

That may not be possible if you are working a job and raising children. Even if you stay at home, the amount of care and support that an ailing loved one requires may be beyond your ability.

Specialized supports can help slow the progress of dementia

Conditions that result in dementia are typically progressive. Your parents don't wake up one morning no longer remembering who they are or where they are. Instead, their cognitive function begins a slow but steady decline.

One of the earliest symptoms is confusion in ordinary circumstances. Forgetfulness and an inability to perform simple tasks are also early warning signs that your loved one's cognitive function is in decline. There is nothing shameful about admitting that you do not have the skill set or education to help your loved one retain cognitive function.

There are medical specialists who work in most care facilities that can engage seniors in activities that keep their brains as healthy as possible. There are also medications and other treatment options that can slow the progress of dementia. For that reason, as well as concern about escape, you may need to consider placing a loved one in a residential care facility when their struggle with dementia becomes apparent.

Both you and your parents should discuss your plans for long-term care if there are issues with dementia in the future. That way, you will have access to the financial resources and state aid programs that can help connect your loved one with the care that will improve their quality of life.

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