Coping with a Sense of Loss When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Coping with a Sense of Loss When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Dear Donna:

My dad and I have been my mom’s primary caregivers since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over three years ago. None of us were familiar with the disease or the unique challenges it would present. It’s been a real learning curve.

My dad and I are struggling to cope with a profound sense of loss, even though my mom is still with us. It seems like every day there is another change in Mom or something else she’s no longer able to do for herself. It’s so tough to witness this decline.

Do you have any suggestions for my dad and me? We want to be strong for my mom, but it’s getting more and more difficult.

Sincerely,

Alysha in Midland, MI

Tips for Coping When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Dear Alysha:

When a person has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, their family and friends all feel the impact of the diagnosis. Alzheimer’s is frequently referred to as the long goodbye because the disease slowly robs a person of their verbal skills, memory, and independence. Like you and your dad, loved ones of people with Alzheimer’s often say they feel a deep sense of sadness, helplessness, and frustration as the disease progresses.

While the physical demands of caregiving can cause loved ones to feel exhausted, the mental toll can be equally trying. These ideas might be helpful to you and your dad:

  • Join a caregiver support group: Caring for someone you love when they have Alzheimer’s is different than caring for those with other types of life-limiting illnesses. Connecting with peers in a similar situation might be beneficial. The understanding and shared experience may bring you and your dad a sense of comfort. Some people might feel more comfortable joining a virtual support group than an in-person meeting. The Alzheimer’s Association has some virtual support group ideas for you to consider.
  • Live in the moment: Of all the suggestions listed, this one might be the most beneficial but also the most difficult to carry out. Instead of focusing on what your mom has lost, try to live in the present. Meet your mom where she is in this journey, which can be different every day.
  • Take a break: When you are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s, the days can be hectic and stressful. Try to take time for yourself on a regular basis, even if it’s just to have lunch with a friend or take a quick walk.
  • Learn to meditate: Many people find that meditation helps bring them inner peace during difficult times. If you haven’t tried it yet, there are a variety of options online for beginners. Watch Beginner’s Guide to Meditation and Guided Meditation for Seniors, Older Adults to get started.
  • Try music therapy: Music offers therapeutic value to people of all ages. For people with dementia and their loved ones, it can be a way to connect after communication skills are impaired. Playing happy music might be a way for the three of you to enjoy your time together.

I hope some of these suggestions are useful to you and your dad, Alysha. I’m wishing your family all the best.

Kind regards,

Donna

Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

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How Is Assisted Living Different than Home Care?

How Is Assisted Living Different than Home Care?

Dear Donna:

My parents are both older and have been struggling to stay in their own home. I live several hours away from them on the opposite side of Michigan. In addition to having a family of my own, I work full-time outside my home. It makes it tough to be there as often as my parents need me.

I’ve just begun to research options for senior care and it’s a little confusing. My parents live in the house they bought together over 40 years ago. They raised their family there and have so many fond memories attached to their home. However, it’s not very senior friendly. It has old bathrooms and lots of stairs to navigate. I find myself worrying that one of them will suffer a fall.

It seems like home care could be an option, but assisted living might be a better choice. Can you please help me understand the differences between these two types of senior care? Any advice would be much appreciated.

Sincerely,

Theresa in Grand Rapids, MI

Comparing Home Care with Assisted Living

 

Dear Theresa:

This is a struggle we frequently hear from adult children. Their aging parents are unable to maintain their independence, and loved ones aren’t sure where to turn for help. The senior care industry has so many options available, it can be overwhelming. As you described, debating between enlisting the services of a home care agency or relocating to an assisted living community is common.

While both choices have similarities, there are distinct differences to better understand before making any decisions.

Home Care Basics

Home care, also referred to as in-home care or private duty care, brings services and support to people in their own house. It sometimes allows seniors to age in place, at least for a while. Depending on the older person’s situation, these professional caregivers help with anything from bathing and grooming to light housekeeping and meal preparation.

This type of senior care might be good for those who live independently and only need minimal to moderate assistance. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Home care assists seniors with routine tasks, such as morning showers and meal prep. It does not help with tasks that occur at random times, like nighttime trips to and from the bathroom.
  • Care is generally nonmedical in nature and doesn’t require a licensed nurse.
  • While it can be cost effective, home care is meant for seniors who need only a few hours of support each day, not for extended periods of time.
  • The older adult should live in a safe, senior-friendly home that doesn’t present fall risks.

Some families find home care is a good temporary solution while they search for an assisted living community. It helps keep senior loved ones safe so the family has time to make an informed decision for the future.

Understanding Assisted Living

Assisted living is often described as the best of both worlds: residents have their own apartment or suite, but caregivers are on-site around the clock. It’s a solution that allows older adults to maintain a greater sense of independence.

This type of senior housing can be ideal for people who:

  • Have mobility problems that put them at higher risk for a fall.
  • No longer drive a car and don’t have access to reliable transportation services.
  • Aren’t willing or able to plan menus, go grocery shopping, or prepare well-balanced meals.
  • Live with chronic medical conditions or are at risk for health issues linked to isolation, such as depression or cardiac disease.
  • Have difficulty managing their medications, including taking the right dosage at the proper time.
  • Are seeking an environment that makes it easier to make friends and stay actively engaged with life.

You might find the article “6 Ways Assisted Living Supports Independence among Older Adults” to be helpful in learning more.

If you have any more questions or would like to visit a Heritage Senior Community for a personal tour, please call us today! One of our experienced team members will be happy to help.

Kind regards,

Donna

What Will My Role Be After My Dad Moves to Assisted Living?

What Will My Role Be After My Dad Moves to Assisted Living?

Dear Donna:

After much thought and many conversations, my dad has decided to move to an assisted living community. For almost four years, my husband and I have been trying to help him remain in his own home. However, this past year has been a real challenge. He’s experiencing some balance issues that his doctor thinks are linked to poor nutrition and being too sedentary.

Our hope is that being surrounded by his peers with opportunities to socialize will help spark his enthusiasm for life again. Not to mention being able to enjoy well-balanced meals that he doesn’t have to cook or even warm up!

While I believe this is the right decision for my dad’s mental and physical well-being, I’m struggling with what my new role in his life will be. I’ve become accustomed to seeing him every day or so, stocking his freezer with meals, taking him to doctor’s appointments, and generally caring for his well-being. It’s been a lot for me to take on, and I feel guilty that I haven’t been able to give my dad the care he needs.

Do you have any advice for me as my dad makes this transition?

Sincerely,

Nicole in Hudsonville, MI

Navigating an Aging Parent’s Move to Assisted Living

Dear Nicole:

Caregiving for a loved one can be both rewarding and demanding. As an aging adult’s need for care and support increases, families often realize the senior would enjoy a better quality of life in an assisted living community. It’s a transition that helps ensure the older person is happy, healthy, and safe. It also allows loved ones to find better balance in their own lives.

While caregivers usually know this is a good solution for everyone involved, they often feel bad about their inability to care for their loved one at home. Sound familiar? I have a few suggestions I hope you will find helpful.

  • Redirect negative thoughts.

When you find guilt or negative thoughts creeping in, try to redirect your attention. Take the dog for a walk or pull out the dust cloth and do a little cleaning. Listen to some uplifting music while you exercise. Many people find 15 minutes of yoga or meditation works well at focusing the mind on the good. The idea is to train your brain to replace guilt with something positive. Allow yourself to accept that you are doing what’s best for your dad and your family.

  • Believe in your decision.

When you believe you’ve made an informed decision, it will be easier to relax and help your dad prepare for the move. That means being thoughtful in your research, asking good questions, and visiting every community you are considering in person several times, if possible. Review the article “Questions to Ask on the First Call to Assisted Living” to make sure you know what to ask the staff at each community.

  • Volunteer at the community.

Once your dad selects and moves into an assisted living community, give yourself some time to find better balance in life. Then, talk with your dad to see how he would feel about your getting involved at the community. Most assisted living communities utilize volunteers in a variety of roles ranging from helping out with activities to arranging flowers on dining room tables.

  • Join a caregiver support group.

No one understands these types of difficult feelings better than fellow family caregivers. Joining a support group will allow you to connect with people who are in situations similar to yours. Many assisted living communities and senior centers offer in-person support groups. You could also consider an online caregiver forum, like those hosted by the Family Caregiver Alliance.

I hope this information is helpful, Nicole! Sending my best wishes for this transition to you and your dad.

Kind regards,

Donna

How to Overcome a Parent’s Resistance about Assisted Living

How to Overcome a Parent’s Resistance about Assisted Living

Dear Donna:

My mom has been living alone since my father passed away almost 5 years ago. She’s recently experienced a few falls and fractured her arm. After her last fall, Mom’s primary care doctor suggested we visit some assisted living communities. He told us we were lucky her injuries weren’t worse as falls are a leading cause of disability in seniors. He suggested we think seriously about making the transition before winter.

My mom seemed to agree with the doctor’s recommendation, but once we got back to my house she admitted it was only for his benefit. Since then, she’s said she’s not ready to move to assisted living.

Mom is staying with my family and me until her arm heals. I really think she needs to move to assisted living after that. Her house is old and not built with a senior citizen’s needs in mind.

What can I do to get my mom to visit a few assisted living communities? I don’t know how to get her past the idea that she’s not ready for this change.

Sincerely,

Daphne in Saginaw, MI

When a Senior Says They Aren’t Ready to Move Yet

Dear Daphne:

We’ve heard the phrase not ready yet many times! It can mean different things to different people. While only your mom can translate exactly what she means by it, there are some common concerns older adults have about this transition.

  • “I’m afraid of making such a big change.”

The fear of change is one of the most common concerns seniors have when they start to explore moving to an assisted living community. Because it’s difficult to express that emotion, however, they might not admit it right away. Patience and heart-to-heart talks with your mom might be necessary.

Try to put yourself in her shoes as much as you can. Think about all she’s facing: giving up her home, moving to an unfamiliar place, and being surrounded by people she doesn’t know. Start by just visiting a handful of communities together to see what they are like. If you share your concerns with the staff ahead of time, they can introduce her to a few residents and help make her feel welcome.

  • “Assisted living is for rich people.”

Finances are another concern seniors have when they begin to consider assisted living. It might initially seem like a big expense. However, when you break the costs of assisted living down and compare them to living at home, it’s easier to see how affordable it is.

If this fear is holding your mom back, try to sit down with her to chat. Review the different ways to pay for assisted living and all of the services and amenities that are included. Also talk about the expenses associated with living at home, especially when she needs more care and support.

  • “I’m afraid I won’t fit in.”

It’s human nature to worry you won’t be accepted or feel comfortable when you move to a new place. When your mom says she’s not ready for assisted living, what she might be feeling is anxiety about whether she’ll fit in. You can address this concern in a few ways.

First, remind her that she’ll be able to maintain relationships with the family and friends she already has. She can invite them to lunch, dinner, or a special event.

You could suggest narrowing down the options to one or two communities, and then get to know each one better. Most assisted living communities invite prospective residents to join them for meals and life enrichment activities.

Encouraging a Senior to Make a Move

Finally, remember that reluctance or resistance are natural responses to change. This is a big decision, so a senior’s concerns are perfectly understandable. While it may take a while for your mother to see the benefits of a move, the two of you will likely be able to work through her concerns.

I wish you and your mom the best as you try to make an informed decision about her future.

Kind regards,

Donna

Schedule a Visit to a Heritage Community

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Questions to Ask on the First Call to Assisted Living

Questions to Ask on the First Call to Assisted Living

Dear Donna:

Last weekend, my brother and I talked with our mother about moving to an assisted living community. It was just a preliminary conversation to gauge how receptive she would—or wouldn’t—be to this idea.

Mom gave up driving a few months ago and we feel like she is spending too much time alone. We also worry that something might happen to her while she’s by herself, and she won’t be able to call for help.

Much to our surprise, mom was amenable to learning more about assisted living communities and visiting a few. My brother and I created a list of nearby communities and researched them online. Our next step is to call those that seem like a good fit for our mom. We’d like to narrow our list down to four communities to visit in person.

What questions should we ask on our first call to these communities? I want to make sure we don’t forget something important!

Sincerely,

Denise in Midland, MI

Questions to Ask to Learn More About Assisted Living

Dear Denise:

How great that your mother is interested in moving! Adult children are often surprised when things go this way. It sounds like you and your brother are very organized and off to a great start. I’m happy to suggest some questions that will help you and your brother make an informed choice.

If I were calling assisted living communities on behalf of a senior loved one, here are a few questions I would make sure to ask:

  • What is the ratio of team members to residents?
  • How long has the average team member worked at the community?
  • Is there a wait list? If so, how long is the anticipated wait?
  • How much is the monthly fee?
  • What services and amenities are included in the base fee? What additional fees should you expect to pay each month?
  • Is the resident required to sign a long-term contract?
  • Can the community’s dining staff accommodate special diets?
  • What types of activities are there for residents to participate in and how often do they occur?
  • Are transportation services available for doctor’s appointments and other outings? Is there a cost involved for utilizing it?
  • Where/how can you access the assisted living community’s most recent state survey? (Note: these are often viewable on the state Department of Health or Department of Aging website.)
  • Are residents able to decorate their apartments with their own belongings?
  • Do apartments have safety features (grab bars, fire suppression system) and an emergency call system?
  • Does the community offer medication assistance under the supervision of a nurse?
  • Are there on-site fitness activities and wellness programs?

While you will likely have your own questions specific to your mother, this should give you a baseline understanding of a community.

Best of luck to your family! I hope this transition goes smoothly.

Kind regards,

Donna

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How to Start a Conversation about Assisted Living with a Parent

How to Start a Conversation about Assisted Living with a Parent

Dear Donna:

My mom has been living alone the last five years since my dad passed. While she did well the first few years, her health has been declining over the last two. She lives in an older home with a lot of stairs, outdated bathrooms, and a detached garage set back from the house. It’s not a great environment for a senior who is struggling.

My husband and I help her as much as possible, but we both work full time. My worry is something will happen to her, and we won’t know until it’s too late. I’m also concerned that she is lonely and isolated. She deserves a better quality of life.

I would like to talk with my mom about moving to an assisted living community, but I’m not sure how to start the conversation. I really have no idea how she might feel about it. Do you have any advice?

Sincerely,

Cindy in Holland, MI

Tips for Talking with an Aging Parent about Assisted Living

Dear Cindy,

It sounds like your mom would be an ideal candidate for a move to an assisted living community. Too often we see families waiting for a crisis to occur before considering a move. Doing so overlooks how much an assisted living community has to offer, such as good nutrition, fitness opportunities, friendship, and the chance to participate in activities.

Take the following steps to learn about assisted living and to start the conversation with your mom:

  • Learn about the benefits: Spend some time researching the benefits assisted living communities offer to residents. From safety features, like grab bars and barrier-free showers, to socialization, assisted living communities support an improved quality of life.
  • Explore local options: Adult children may decide to visit local assisted living communities to see what is available. It will allow you to better understand pricing structure, availability, and each community’s unique personality. You can rule out those that aren’t a good fit. Once you talk with your mother about moving, you can visit communities that seem like the best options.
  • Create talking points: Before you sit down with your mother, think through what you’ve learned about assisted living communities. How will this move allow your mom (and you) to enjoy a better quality of life? Also, consider potential roadblocks she may bring up. For example, is your mom likely to think it’s too expensive? Be prepared to talk through the cost of remaining at home—insurance, groceries, utilities, lawn care, snow removal, and more.
  • Be realistic: It’s rare that a senior will agree to give up their home and move during a single conversation. Unless her safety is immediately at risk, this will likely be a series of conversations you have before your mom begins to visit communities. Forcing a timeline can result in her refusing to consider moving at all.

I hope these tips are helpful to you, Cindy! Please let me know if you have any more questions.

Kind regards,

Donna

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