As a gerontological nurse practitioner, senior care business owner, and Baby Boomer with aging parents, I have had the opportunity to see from many perspectives the struggles that are going on in the area of senior care. One of the most devastating problems I am currently seeing is caring for a parent with dementia. As most readers know, dementia (of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type) is a disease of progressive forgetfulness that often occurs slowly over years. Nancy Reagan called it “the long goodbye”. Many adult children want to care for their parent in the home but as dementia progresses, it becomes more difficult to provide a safe environment and still keep the rest of the family functioning in a healthy way.
Care is usually more manageable in the early stage of dementia but in the middle and late stages, behavior issues such as wandering, angry outbursts or poor safety awareness may emerge and make care at home more challenging or nearly impossible. There is often a negative event, such as a fall with injury, that may prompt family members to make a decision to transition their parent to a facility.
So, if you are caring for a parent with dementia in your own home or theirs, how do you know when it’s time to make a change in care setting? Here are two simple questions that you can ask yourself.
1) Is the current situation keeping my parent safe? If you feel yourself hesitating to answer yes to this, then maybe it is time to think about a safer environment that might be provided by a memory care unit with nursing staff available 24 hours per day. If your parent has wandered outside or become lost while you were taking a shower and you can’t leave them alone for even a minute without fearing something bad will happen, then think about other options for safe care.
2) Has my parent had an increase in the number of falls in the past 6 months or a year? If the answer is yes, then you should begin the conversation with the family about the need for a change in living arrangement. A common scenario that I see as a practitioner is family members trying to keep their parent at home without adequate caregivers present until the parent has a serious fall or accident that requires hospitalization and treatment. Often this negative event will cause health care professionals to encourage discharge from the hospital directly to a facility. To spare your loved one this traumatic situation and the stress that accompanies recovery from physical injuries as well as being displaced twice to unfamiliar environments for care, plan in advance as you see the signs of physical and mental decline.
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