Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

What to do when a parent may have Alzheimer’s August 12, 2009

This is an article from my Parenting column on the LA edition of

Having a parent or relative with degenerative disease is a complex matter. Beyond complicated decisions, new feelings about “parenting” your parent, and keeping up with the demands of your own family, family caregivers require accurate, relevant information to best manage the situation.

“So many of us feel, especially in this economy, that there is not enough time and money and then, if you add to that mix an aging parent with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, the pressure can become overwhelming,” says Jill Gilbert, CEO of, the most comprehensive site on the web for everything related to aging. “Whenever you are feeling derailed as a caregiver, the most important thing is to do an impartial assessment of your situation and then figure out a plan of action. One of our core missions is to simplify this process for consumers,” adds Gilbert. Here is her advice for families:

Alzheimer’s disease is progressive in its middle and end stages it can become really complicated to understand what a person’s needs truly are. An assessment can be as basic as realizing that Mom just needs a medication reminder and if an alarm sounds she’ll remember to take her pills on-time to trying to figure out how to help someone who wanders from the safety of the home, which can be caused by a variety of situational and behavorial issues that can be difficult to tease out.

If you are having difficulty assessing a loved one’s needs or how to meet them, I strongly urge hiring a geriatric care manager a professional who can come to your home and do a through evaluation of a person’s needs-psychologically, physically and socially and come up with an action plan. Additionally, if you want to hire them to do so they will even help implement it for you and coordinate any needed services or home modifications that need to occur. They can be a godsend for busy families who are just not sure where to start.

If you’re able to assess your parents’ needs on your own and decide that staying at home is the best option, you’ll need perform a room-by-room assessment of what would make a calming and safe environment. You may also need to bring in outside help if you and your family cannot meet the care needs of your loved one. Sometimes assessment will make you realize that your loved one living at home is no longer an option-at which point you need to look into your Alzheimer’s care community options such as assisted living or nursing homes.

Once you have addressed your loved one’s needs and have them in a safe and comfortable environment, then you can help maintain an aspect that is just as crucial to their well-being-and that is their sense of joy and happiness. Meeting your family member on whatever level they can be reached
should be primary as you go through this experience-and the best way to do that is to find the activities that you can both enjoy and are also not overwhelming to your loved one. Dementia activities
can be anything from folding towels to scrapbooking; reading a favorite book out loud to sorting and organizing a box filled with buttons to massaging their hands with lotion. By fulfilling the older person’s need to feel a part of what is going on and bringing them pleasure and positive interactions, you will enhance their daily life and help to promote a sense of well-being.

For more info: Visit to learn more about Alzheimer’s, dementia, and where to find resources in your area.

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2 Responses to “What to do when a parent may have Alzheimer’s”

  1. lwayswright Says:

    My grandfather died of altzheimers disease many years ago. And my mother in law is now suffering with it. It is so hard to watch them lose all memories of loved ones…and with my mother in law she has turned really mean as well…which is common with this disease. It’s hard to not take things personally…but it what needs to be done. And remembering that they are not in control of their own minds it is like being with a child all over again. It is sad!

  2. rjlacko Says:

    My heart goes out to you and your family. Caregiving for an elderly relative who is suffering from dementia is a complicated task. Your love and courage makes a world of difference. Stay on top of the latest research, and take time to recharge your own batteries.

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