Dr. Cheryl Woodson

Woodsonian Inspirational Musings on Monday: All of November, We Salute the Caregiving Warriors Who Battle Alzheimer’s Disease

This month, in celebration of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Caregiving Month, Woodsonian Inspirational Musings on Monday will explore some of the emotional challenges of dementia care. Informational Thoughts on Thursday will clear up misinformation about this condition. I am proud to also offer Wisdom on Wednesday with expert guests. Please join me and invite your friends.

The first challenge is recognizing that your loved one has a problem. The following is an excerpt discusses two factors that create this challenge: ageism and denial. It comes from my book TO SURVIVE CAREGIVING: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice (available in print on amazon.com and in audio, read by the author, at amazon.com, Audibles.com, and iTunes.)

Ageism is a bias against older adults, but it is also the expectation that older adults are supposed to be disabled. Families, professionals, and even seniors themselves believe that “just getting old” explains any new problem. Families may also “fill in the blanks.” They finish Mom’s sentences, or suggesting that Dad shouldn’t wear his flip flops in the snow, not realizing that they are covering deficits. Lower expectations create a barrier to acknowledging needs and getting help.

Older adults should not be confused, fall, suffer pain, leak urine, lose interest in life, or change in any other significant way unless there is an illness. Changes cannot be due to aging alone. Don’t give up and accept disability without a thorough investigation, which might reveal a condition that could be improved, if not cured. Even when we can’t cure, we can give the right care.

In 2012, the Mayo Clinic website suggested seven questions that constitute warning signs:
Are your aging parents:
• Taking care of themselves?
• Experiencing memory loss?
• Safe in their homes?
• Safe on the road?
• Losing weight?
• In good spirits?
• Able to get around?
I would add another.
• Be suspicious if a senior begins to mismanage money.

Did Dad stop paying bills on time? Does Mom pay bills more than once, or forget altogether? Do they spend large amounts of money on strange purchases? For example, one senior spent $25,000 on electric beds. Another, previously astute businessman spent $12,000 on packing materials, but failed to pay his quarterly taxes. Changes in managing finances should trigger an evaluation.

Some families see changes, but convince themselves that they do not. It is easy to understand their denial. The moment they accept the problem, their lives will never be the same. For the rest of the senior’s life, eldercare will be on the top of the “To Do” list, along all of the other overwhelming responsibilities.

Families also deny, trying to avoid the emotional pain of acknowledging frailty in a respected elder, and to avoid accepting changes in the relationship. My mother had been my oracle. I wanted to crawl in her lap and ask why my husband and kids were driving me crazy, but she was lost to me. Seven years into a ten-year caregiving relationship, Mother looked at me and said, “Do I know you?” I thought I was going to die. Mother did not recognize me for the last three years of her life. Why wouldn’t someone refuse to expose herself to that kind of pain?

Don’t let ageism convince you, or your doctor that the changes you see are “just old age.”

Don’t deny that your senior might have a problem. No matter how much it hurts, no matter who has the idea (even your bossy brother, or your spoiled sister,) investigate. Don’t miss an opportunity to help your senior.

Next Monday Juggling, and trying to drop only the rubber balls. Balancing work, childcare, eldercare, and other relationships.

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