3 keys to accepting change in dementia

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I host a monthly support group in my area, and yesterday’s meeting made me think a lot about acceptance. We had a great discussion: all the attendees are care partners of people living with Mild Cognitive Impairment or early stages of dementia, and they each expressed some level of learning to “accept” their loved one’s changing condition. 

When we talked about why and how people learn to accept a loved one’s changing condition, we also talked about the need to put resentment behind us.  We acknowledged that it can be really difficult to not resent that a loved one can’t do everything they used to do: the chores around the house, moving from one task to another, even putting on a coat without reminders and assistance. 

Here are my 3 keys to accepting change in dementia. You probably have a few other ideas, so be sure to email me with those thoughts! I may add them to a new list.

  1. Recognize that if they could do it, they would. They aren’t not-doing-something to get on your nerves. They literally can’t. do. it. In fact, I’d argue that they probably don’t want to feel like a “burden” to you at all, and would be mortified if they ever truly realized how much they can’t do anymore. Dementia gives the person with dementia a “gift” every now and then: while it takes things away, it also prevents a person from realizing how much they’ve actually lost. You know, of course, which makes it all the more difficult for you as the caregiver.
  2. It’s about education and support. I find that the more people learn about dementia, the more accepting of a loved one’s condition they become. Consider this: the don’t-get-it-won’t-get-it people never come to my workshops or training sessions: they don’t want to “get” it! If you’re reading this, you want to get it. That’s huge. It speaks volumes of your character that you’re out here, searching for more information, educating yourself. I also recommend support. Support for you may mean many things, but most of all, try to find a support group in your area. I 100% guarantee that other care partners have very similar stories to your’s.
  3. It’s okay to get frustrated. Don’t beat yourself up for snapping at them yesterday after they asked about that thing for the 15th time. You’re allowed to get annoyed, as long as it’s not all the time. If you find yourself snapping at your loved one daily, it’s time for you to get some extra help. This means time to yourself, caregiving assistance, maybe therapy, and definitely a support group. Remember that even if your loved one forgets day-to-day interactions, they won’t forget ongoing emotional battles.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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