Dear Donna:

My mom has been caring for her older sister who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s almost 3 years ago. My aunt’s disease makes this a very challenging role for my 78-year-old mother. She’s been living mostly with her sister for the past year while my husband and I take care of my mom’s house.

While my aunt has adult children of her own, they seem to be in denial about how much care she needs and how difficult it is just to keep her safe. Worries about wandering, a new behavior for my aunt, keep my mom from getting a good night’s rest. It’s rare for my cousins to help with anything, even the upkeep and maintenance around her house.

I often ask my mom what I can do to help, but she just tells me she’s doing okay. I know that’s not the case. The physical and emotional toll it’s taking on her is tough to watch. It’s time for me to intervene, get her some help, and possibly have a frank discussion with my cousins about helping their mom.

Do you have any tips for me on how to proceed? My mom really needs some support.


Jayme in Grand Haven, MI

Caring for an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Dear Jayme:

Alzheimer’s is a disease that impacts the entire family. Unfortunately, you’ve discovered just how difficult it can be. I’m sure it’s tough for you to watch your aunt’s health decline, as well as your mom’s. This disease is referred to as the “long good-bye” for families because of how it slowly robs an adult of their ability to care for themselves.

I do have a few ideas that I hope you find useful:

  • Utilize technology: Since you mentioned your aunt has begun to wander, I think it’s important to address this issue immediately. There are forms of technology that help manage wandering. It can help keep your aunt safe and allow your mom to sleep again. If the house doesn’t have a home security system that sounds an alarm if a door or window is opened, have one installed if you can. That will give your mom some peace of mind. In addition, there are a variety of GPS tracking devices you can take advantage of. From watches to pendants, “GPS Tech Products for Adults with Alzheimer’s” might help you choose a device that allows you to quickly locate your aunt should she wander from home.
  • Provide healthy meals: Poor nutrition is common among people who have Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. You can help prevent that by providing simple, healthy meals. Stock the freezer with options your mom can pull out and heat up as needed. Another suggestion is to set up a Meal Train that allows friends and family to sign up to drop off food. You’ll probably find people in your life who’ve wanted to help, but haven’t been sure how to do so. This platform is free and easy to use.
  • Explore respite services: A type of care you and your mom might not be familiar with is respite. This short-term stay at Heritage Senior Communities is designed to give loved ones a break. The senior stays with us for a few days or weeks so a family caregiver can rest or attend to personal business. Respite guests receive the same type of support as our long-term residents, such as nutritious meals, daily activities, medication reminders, and assistance with personal care. You could help your mom by exploring local assisted living communities that offer respite to figure out which one might be a good fit.
  • Encourage a family meeting: It sounds like it may be time to organize a family conference. Ask a friend to stay with your aunt so you and your mom can meet with your cousins in another setting. Create an agenda for the meeting to share ahead of time, along with a list of tasks that your aunt needs assistance with. Give some concrete examples of how your cousins can assist their mom. Some families find it helpful to have a neutral party mediate. It might be their pastor or priest or even a paid geriatric care manager.

I hope this information is useful, Jayme! Please call a nearby Heritage community if you have any questions or if you would like to tour a memory care program on your aunt’s behalf.

Kind regards,