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A family’s guide: Helping a loved one cope with memory loss

Memory Care Healthy Aging Primary Care
Four African-American women standing outdoors together

How to align family caregivers 

It’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love suffer with memory loss or dementia. 
“Maybe the patient is your parent, spouse or sibling. This family member – who was once sharp-witted – now struggles to remember names, pay bills or take medication correctly,” explains Denise M. Butler, MS, CSA, geriatric assessment clinic coordinator with Riverside Health System. “Even creating a grocery list or following a recipe is daunting.” 

During this time, your loved one needs you – and your entire family – more than ever. Here are tips for building a family support network to help your loved one cope: 

Learn all you can about memory loss and dementia conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Encourage your family members to learn too. Share articles, resources and links to reputable websites like the National Institute on Aging to understand Alzheimer’s disease. If the memory loss condition is advanced, learn how to communicate with your loved one. The more you know, the more you can support your loved one. 

Discuss your loved one’s needs. Talk with your family members at a family meeting about the type of care and oversight your loved one needs. Does this person need occasional visits or 24/7 care? What about help with chores, errands or transportation to medical appointments? Try to pinpoint your loved one’s needs and anticipate what will be needed in the future. 

Divvy up responsibilities. Family members can volunteer for tasks that mesh with their personalities and natural abilities. For example, some people in your family may be nurturing, caregiver types. Others may be natural-born organizers or have a flair for handling financial matters. Still others may be most comfortable (and just as helpful) if you assign them certain tasks.

Create a care calendar. After you’ve discussed your loved one’s needs, and divvied up responsibilities, create a schedule so that everyone is on the same page about what needs to be done, who is doing it and when. You can make a giant calendar and set it up in a central location in your loved one’s home where everyone can see it. Or, you can create an online version. AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, has a list of apps that help families get organized like CareZone, Care Village and Lotsa Helping Hands. 

Be patient with each other. Not everyone copes with the stress of caring for someone with dementia in the same way. And not everyone will agree about how to handle caregiving challenges and financial obstacles. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests giving family members an opportunity to share opinions. Be willing to have multiple discussions to figure out a plan or solution.  

Don’t resent the family member who lives out of town. Although family members may not live in the same geographical location as your loved one with memory loss, they can still help through long-distance caregiving. They can offer emotional support to in-town caregivers who may need to talk or enjoy a good laugh. They can also help manage finances, schedule medical appointments, research care options, and visit periodically to give local caregivers a break.

Change happens – be flexible. Your loved one’s needs may change as the memory loss progresses. Your work schedule may change. Your brother or sister may need to care for a sick child or take a sudden business trip. When this happens, encourage family members to trade caregiving responsibilities, so that your plan can operate as smoothly as possible. Be willing to hire outside help to fill in caregiver gaps and make sure your loved one gets the best care possible. 

For more advice on caring for someone with memory loss or dementia, contact the Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health or call 757-220-4751.

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