Does your parent have early dementia? Michael Bower, of the Alzheimer's Association, Western & Central Washington State Chapter, advises: this isn't the time to dig in your heels in "Remember the Alamo" fashion, shouldering the whole load. Ditto if your parent's spouse is the caregiver, and you're helping out.
"Take 'No' out of your vocabulary," she told caregivers at the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell, Washington. "Practice 'Yes.'"
How does that translate into practical terms? Bower, an Education Coordinator and daughter of a mother with dementia, offers the following ways to grow a support system.
1. In your purse, pocket or planner, keep a list of tasks others can do for you. Your list might include doing the grocery shopping, vacuuming the house or watching your parent for an afternoon so the caregiver can get a break, etc. There are two reasons for doing this, Bower says. "If you keep saying 'No,' they'll quit offering. When you really need help later, they won't be there. Another reason to ask for help early is to get your loved one used to other people helping."
2. Educate yourself on the disease and other family members about the disease, including those far away. They can help you with specific tasks when they visit, and can do others from afar. Many out-of-state children take over finances for their parent with dementia, for example. They can do preliminary online research for care providers. The more involved they become, the more they'll understand the work you do.
3. Consider joining a local support group. Many are sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association. Being in a support group can help you deal with the emotions of caregiving, and offer ideas on coping. I've walked by a support group at Warm Beach Senior Community many times. Even with the closed door, the laughter was audible, as people shared moments which were humorous only to others who experience similar moments day after day. Laughter is great medicine.
If your parent has dementia, can you think of other ways to grow your support system?