Being a family caregiver to me is one of the noblest jobs a person can take on in their lifetime. It requires a depth of patience, compassion and personal fortitude that many do not know if they possess.
Tia Walker, the co-author of the book, “The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love,” said, “Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.”
As we care for our loved ones with dementia, it is important we choose to do exactly what Walker expressed. It demands that we dig deep into ourselves to respond kindly and graciously to our loved ones, as well as the different situations we may face throughout the various stages of dementia. I am always so proud to say that for over 13 years, my wonderful family had the privilege of caring for my late father, Gordon C. Gunn. While he suffered from dementia, he spent 8⅟₂ years at home and five years at the VA Center. My family shared the responsibility of caring for my father, but my mother, Bobbie Diffee-Gunn, definitely bore the heaviest burden of his care. Caring for our father was challenging for us as siblings, and I could only imagine how hard it was on our mother, who was also advanced in her years at that time.
As you may already know, dementia occurs in stages, and each stage lasts for different lengths of time, depending on the person. As I have mentioned before, the use of diversions and distractions is vital in helping you navigate your way through these stages. My family wanted to do all that we could to help my father get through these difficult times with as much grace and dignity as possible. The diversions we relied upon to accomplish this goal were invaluable, and I am pleased to share them with you.
One thing to consider is relying on family friends, the local pastor and the family doctor to motivate your loved one to accomplish a task or activity. Often, your loved one will not listen to you or even will fight you regarding something as simple as brushing their teeth or getting dressed for the day. Having a good friend call and encourage them to perform the activity, or their doctor expressing the importance of accomplishing a certain task, often will motivate your loved one to respond and do what needs to be done. Your loved one is trying to grasp their last sense of dignity and understand themselves and others. I strongly encourage you to step into their world and not demand that they return to yours. As difficult as it may be, you must see yourself as their guide through this new world, so your normal sense of expectations will need to be adjusted.
For a time, my father had the desire to drive after we had taken steps to secure his car and prevented him from driving. Instead of telling him to forget about it or admonishing him like a child, we took him to the car lot on a Sunday when it was closed to let him look at a car he wanted. During the outing, he would tell us what car he liked, and someone would write it down diligently because we wanted him to know that what he said mattered to us. These excursions to the dealership opened up the opportunity for my dad to reminisce about his first cars and driving experiences as a younger man. These were precious moments shared with him, for which I am so thankful. If there is something that your loved one really wants to do, take the time to indulge them if possible. This shared, memorable experience can give them a sense of joy and validation.
Becoming more educated and informed about this terrible disease affecting your family’s lives will provide the necessary methods and ideas for caring for your loved one. Another diversion that we discovered was if my father seemed bothered or worried about something, we began to sing a cheerful song. Often, our song of choice was just “Happy Birthday,” which was a familiar and comforting song that was helpful to distract him from his worries. Some other important things to reinforce your loved one’s peace of mind are keeping your tone of voice upbeat when you speak to them, maintaining direct eye contact and avoiding the question, “Don’t you remember?” They will usually respond more positively to a chipper tone than a harsh, negative one, and your loved one seeing your direct gaze communicates “we are in this together.” Also, never asking them if they remember something will close the door on the frustrations with their inability to remember. These methods will only help to strengthen your loved one’s trust in you.
Unfortunately, during one of the stages of dementia, your loved one may suffer from the desire to wander. I would strongly suggest that you install locks with a key to the front and back doors and even the bedroom door. Doing this will help minimize the risk of their going missing. Additionally, I encourage you to contact Sunbeam Family Services, which provides a “Care-Track” bracelet. You will need to fill out some documents, providing information about your loved one that would be forwarded to the local police. In the unfortunate event that your loved one is missing, they most likely would be found within 45 minutes if they were wearing the bracelet. The bracelet uses radio waves to locate the person, and remarkably the signal is even detectable in water. Sunbeam Family Services is located at 1100 NW 14 in Oklahoma City and can be reached at 405-528-7721 or www.sunbeamfamilyservices.org. There is no cost for the bracelet, but a donation is greatly appreciated. It should be returned when it is no longer needed.
Remember to take care of yourself and utilize the resources available to give you the physical, mental and emotional support that you will most definitely need. Daily Living Centers Inc. provides adult day care five days a week. It is located at 3000 N Rockwell Ave. in Bethany (they have five other locations), and can be reached at 405-792-2401. As I have said before, you are not in this alone because there is a village of support at the ready to assist you on this journey as a family caregiver. I genuinely hope that this series on family caregivers has supplied some crucial insights that you can personally apply during this experience.
Robin Gunn is the owner of The Oklahoma Senior Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read the original article here.