Caring Currents

Alzheimer's and Dementia Resolutions

Last updated: Dec 26, 2008

Vintage New Years Postcard
Image by riptheskull used under the creative commons attribution no derivs license.

If there's someone with Alzheimer's disease or another dementia in your life, the last thing you need to ring in the new year is more nudges toward self improvement. You may already be thinking, Forget resolutions about losing weight and giving up alcohol – I just need to figure out how to survive the stress (not to mention the economy) in the new year.

Fear not. This list of resolutions is meant to help you. How? By making taking care of someone with dementia easier. It's stuff you may already know -- what I'm asking is that you consider it through a fresh lens. Make it your ultimate resolution to see tough situations as opportunities to make life better for yourself.

So as a new year begins, why not vow to:

  • Bite my tongue rather than say the dreaded words, "You just asked me that!"

    There's an old saying, If you want to get along, go along. Losing patience or quarreling lets you vent -- but actually makes the situation worse, since the person with dementia is apt to grow frightened or agitated.

    Learn little tricks for smoother communication. For example, when repetition is a problem and your patience is fried, try moving to a different room to redirect the conversation around new, different stimuli.

  • Move out of my comfort zone to find fresh ways to help my loved one stay occupied and connected.

    True, it's work to think up meaningful activities for someone with dementia to do. But in the long run you save time by making the person feel more content. Staying busy provides a fortifying sense of purpose, even if it's folding (and refolding) towels or organizing (and reorganizing) a tool box.

    One starting point: Music. Because of the way the brain is organized, music can reach even those who never showed the slightest artistic inclination.

  • Have a weekly date night -- with myself.

    Couples with young babies often receive the advice to have a standing evening out to stay in touch with their relationship as partners, not just as parents. Similarly, you need to preserve a sense of yourself as an individual, not just a care partner. The trick is to set a regular appointment with regular care coverage -- whether it's to exercise, to meet a friend for coffee, or just to go "Wal-Marting," idly pushing a cart down the aisle with nobody else to worry about.

    Then ink this regular appointment in your datebook like a doctor's appointment. You wouldn't skip that, would you?

  • Let it go, let it go, let it go.

    When you catch yourself second-guessing yourself (Oh why didn't I realize Dad would be hungry . . . OMG it's my fault I let that bedsore develop!) take a deep breath and just quit. Nobody is a perfect caregiver...because nobody's perfect.

  • Be open to advice -- but toss out what doesn't fit.

    There's a saying, When you've seen one person with Alzheimer's…you've seen one person with Alzheimer's. Each person's disorder manifests uniquely. So do snarf up all the info you can find on day-to-day life with dementia, but realize that it won't all apply to your situation. Don't waste a second feeling isolated or like you're doing something "wrong" if a certain approach doesn't work. There are many approaches.

  • Draw yourself a support circle.

    Can't get out of the house often enough for regular meetings? No excuse nowadays. Like-minded people with big hearts and lots of ideas are only clicks away. And believe me, we all need them.

One final resolution: Tear up those this-year's self-improvement lists! A whole year is too much to plan for. If you're caring for someone with dementia, all you can do is take it one day at a time.