When people hear about what I went through during the year of caring for my elderly parents, they often ask what I would do differently if I had to relive the experience with the knowledge I have now. I sigh and say, "Ohhh, if only I could! I'd know exactly what to do to help my parents much sooner and I would be able to save so much time, money, and a fortune in Kleenex!" If you are heading into the eldercare years, please learn from my mistakes and don't reinvent the wheel. Here are my top ten recommendations:
1. Consider buying Long-Term Care Insurance while everyone is healthy.
2. Consult an Elder Law Attorney to get all legalities done right: Durable Powers of Attorney for Health and Financial, as well as Living Wills, Trusts, etc.
3. Realize when your elder says and does things that strike you as strange or illogical or irrational ¾ they are! Don't wait and just chalk it up to old age or second-guess yourself. Call the Alzheimer's Association (800-272-3900) and ask for a referral to a neurologist specialized in dementia who will perform a battery of blood, neurological and memory tests to accurately diagnose what type of dementia it is.
4. Ask the doctor about the medications: Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne and Namenda, which can mask and slow down dementia symptoms, keeping a person in the early stage longer. Make sure vitamin B-12, folate, thyroid and depression are checked, which can cause dementia-like symptoms. Have the doctor evaluate all medications for interactions. Optimize nutrition and fluid consumption.
5. Ask the doctor to consider prescribing an anti-depressant for your elder if needed, which will help to smooth out bad moods. And if you need an anti-depressant for yourself-get one!
6. When dementia surfaces, live in your elder's reality of what is true for them at the moment. Don't argue, question, or try to force logic or reason. Agree and use calm non-threatening body language, while you distract and redirect their attention to things they are interested in. Get them reminiscing about the old days, capitalizing on their long-term memory.
7. When illogical demented episodes surface, realize that your loved one may be trying to work through unresolved issues of a lifetime. Validate their frustrated feelings, go with the flow, and don't contradict, which may help them bring some degree of closure to difficult past experiences.
8. Enroll your elder in Adult Day Health Care, where professionals are trained to manage dementia patients. By maintaining a daily routine and keeping loved ones engaged during the day everyone will sleep better at night.
9. Call your Area Agency on Aging and the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116) for resources, and attend a support group regularly.
10. Shift your perspective to being grateful for the lessons you are learning, even though they are hard. Celebrate the life that is left and stop focusing on the dying. You are required to make sure your elderly loved ones are safe, that they have good doctors and the right medications, but you are not required to let caregiving destroy your life, nor would they want that for you.