One of the more difficult things for a family to do is initiate a conversation with aging loved ones about their changing health needs, concern about safety in their current living situation and discussion around “what next”. Regardless of how much love they express or how caring they approach the subject, it can be challenging for all parties, family and senior alike. Now add to that formula the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia and you’ve just made the task nearly impossible.
I have yet to meet a family member who didn’t intend for this conversation to be honoring. They want to share their concerns and paint a picture of what they’re seeing, but they also want their loved one involved in the decision. And this is where the real challenge begins; when memory loss is a part of their loved one’s reality.
For a number of years I’ve been presenting a program about having difficult conversations with older adults. Invariably in the midst of my program a child of a senior will tell a story of how much they want their parent to make the decision about when and where to move but they’re not getting anywhere with them. It’s the same conversation over and over again. It’s like they’re not listening. My response often goes something like this:
“You told me that your mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That often means that their ability to recall what was discussed a few minutes ago is limited. So all the valid reasons you shared with her last week, yesterday and again this morning are possibly gone. If that’s true in your case, how honoring is it to expect her to make a decision she’s not capable of? Does she really have the ability to consider all the research you’ve done, all the information you’ve gathered to come to the best possible decision? It’s not fair, it’s not what you or she wants, but it’s still the truth.”
Why is it so hard for us to accept that having them involved in the decision isn’t necessarily an honoring thing? As a child what did we say to our parents -
- I’m old enough to make my own decisions.
- You treat me like a baby.
- Don’t you trust me to make my own decisions?
So when we do the same thing to our loved ones, when we take over the decision making, it feels like we’re doing to them what we never wanted our parents to do to us. The difference is with Alzheimer’s, no matter how hard they try, no matter how responsible they’ve always been, the logic and thought process needed to make a good decision about their own future is simply no longer in their skill set. Though they may not be able to grasp all the details you lay out before them, what they DO understand is your tone, your body language and the compassion you wear on your face as you express your concerns. While facilitating many conversations between children and their loved ones, I have often had cause to say; “They love you enough to allow you to be angry with them. They wish it were different, but the most important thing to them is your well-being.” Is this a conversation you’ve been having or need to have?
You may be realizing that caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is not a single decision but becomes a series of them as the disease progresses. If your family has reached a point when you need to transition to a care community, Laureate Group offers specialized dementia care in four of our communities. If you are struggling with taking the next step, contact a community and learn about the type of care your loved one will receive. Though no one can love your family member like you do, a team of well-trained staff is able to offer programming that is enriching and stimulating, that can build upon strengths an individual has retained and enhance quality of life for the entire family.
The Arboretum Menomonee Falls, WI - 262-253-0909
Laurel Oaks Glendale, WI - 414-351-0505
Layton Terrace Greenfield, WI - 414-425-5600
Oak Hill Terrace Waukesha, WI - 262-548-1457