By Becca Verda
Becoming a care partner to a loved one with dementia is hard. For many of us it isn’t something that comes naturally, we have to learn new ways of being with loved ones and attending to their needs. The same is true when you’re learning how to support a care partner. Relationships change and you have to find new ways connect and be together.
I remember how difficult it was for my mom when she became a care partner to my grandmother. I was twelve-years-old when grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she lived with us through my teenage years. My mom was a single parent raising a daughter and caring for her mother. I could not have been further from understanding my mom’s experience and I wasn’t always sensitive to what she was going through.
We clung to every semblance of normalcy we could and I did the only thing I knew to support her; I showed up. I came to family dinners even though it was only the three of us (and conversation was not always lively). I drank countless vanilla milkshakes because they were grandma’s favorite and a drive to Dairy Queen was an easy outing. And, when
Grandma moved into a memory care facility, I sat with my mom while she held grandma’s
hand and told her all about how my brother and I had grown up, gone to college and found good jobs even though she would never remember.
It would have been a lot easier to never show up, but my mom needed me as much as my grandma needed her. Anyone can show up for a care partner. The more you can support a care partner the easier it gets and all the little things you do make a huge difference.
During November, we recognize the impact of caregiving and honor 15 million Americans caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. So, here are 5 easy ways you can show up and support a care partner:
Sometimes offering to help can be overwhelming and difficult to accept. Care partners have a lot on their plates and thinking of something for you to do when you say, “Let me know if I can help with anything” feels overwhelming. Be specific. Things like, “I’m going to the store tomorrow, can I do your grocery shopping the week?” or “My son mows our lawns on Wednesdays, can he do yours too?” are easy to say yes to. Better yet, if you see something that needs to be done, just do it!
Don’t be offended if your help isn’t accepted the first, second or even third time. Keep offering. It can be hard to ask for help and people aren’t always ready to accept it when we offer. There will be a day they need you and being there will make a world of difference.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for a care partner is to listen. Check in, say hello and ask them how they are. Be prepared to listen even when it gets hard and offer encouragement, verbally or through letters and cards. Hugs can also go a long way, if that’s your thing.
When someone becomes a care partner, things change. It sounds obvious but when someone is caring for a loved one with memory loss, they won’t always be able to do all of the things they used to. You’ll miss the way your relationships used to be, and that’s hard, but don’t pull away–they will be missing it too. Adjust to their needs and be flexible. Find new things you can do together or offer respite so they can enjoy hobbies that may be more difficult now.
Sometimes having a network of support isn’t enough. It’s easy to say, “Oh, they have so much support from friends and family, they will be fine.” Many people are unsure of how to help. Mobilize others and put people into action. You can use the Team Care Calendar to help a care partner organize their network of support; schedule yourself and other for chores, respite and social outings for the care partner and the person with memory loss or dementia.