Adjusting to the Changes and Role Reversal of Alzheimer's

Health Professional

In the last few weeks we have had a number of questions on Our Alzheimer's about how to deal with change when parents have Alzheimer's or other types of dementia. Role reversal usually happens over a number of months and years, sometimes in a much shorter time frame. There comes that moment where the changes in your father or mother's memory and behavior can no longer be explained outside of a medical model of 'illness' or disease and your parent/child roles, and lives change for ever.

Alzheimer's has no cure and is degenerative disease so the levels of care and support you give can only increase. Commitment is required for an indefinite period of time. If we have a good relationship with our parents most of us take on the role without really thinking about the full implications and many times it works out fine. The increased care needs of the person with dementia affect caregiver's lives, whether they live together, live within the same locality or care at a distance. Caregiver's to people with dementia have higher levels of caregiver stress and distress than any other group of carers.

Alzheimer's changes your relationship and caregiver's can often feel a sense of grief about the loss of affection, shared experiences and support they previously got from their parent. Previously long standing dysfunctional parent/child relationships get carried forward into caregiving and complicate the process of giving care and receiving help from others. Obligation, resentment, anger then may then predominate.

In an ideal world you have the full support of a number of family members so you can share care, still have a social life, work when you have to. Money is no problem so you can buy in care when you are not there, your parent is secure, happy, well looked after and has real quality of life even though they have dementia. That seems very far away from the reality for most caregivers.

A recent contributor here at Our Alzheimer's talked of her difficulties of looking after her mother's increasing levels of dependence:

"I am so depressed, because seeing her in this condition is hard for me, I have no one to help me, my brother has been a hard drug user and he has anger issues, so he has no patience with her. I also have a full time job, plus I am fighting breast cancer and going through chemotherapy.   My husband is supportful of me but not my mother. I cannot ignore her I have to help her she is my mother, but I need to rest at times.   I have no one to take her to doctor's appointments, nor grocery shopping, I do it all".

Your feelings can make you feel trapped and unable to make decisions about changing their care and different choices of care packages are left until there is a crisis like depression, caregiver ill health .

Caregivers need opportunities to address their feelings of grief and loss and to be offered practical solutions like information on the Transition to Assisted Living. Your local Alzheimer's Association will also have information and support groups in your area to help you make the best decisions.

Good luck. If you are reading this then you want the best for your parent, we cannot take the hurt out of it but we can give you information and support here on OurAlzheimer'