Dementia and Family Dynamics: Tips for Managing this Difficult Time

Caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia comes with unique challenges and stresses. Not only do you need to navigate the new complexities associated with your loved one’s declining cognitive health, but you may also have to deal with challenges from other family members.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, sad, and angry. Developing strategies to manage expectations and deal with new stressors can help you avoid burnout and fatigue as you get used to your new role. Here are some tips for managing memory and dementia care, acting as a caregiver, and managing family dynamics during a difficult time.

Maintain Realistic Expectations

Before you begin acting as a caregiver to a loved one with dementia, take some time to set realistic expectations for yourself. Consider what level of care, time commitment, and physical and emotional burdens you are able to take on.

You need to balance your loved one’s needs with your own and those of your family. Don’t forget to consider your own physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial needs. It’s very easy to become exhausted and overwhelmed when you first start caring for a family member.

Take advantage of planning resources like the Caregiver Bill of Rights and respite organizations that can offer a helping hand when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

It is very common for caregivers to start out with the best of intentions and then find they’re struggling with heavy emotions, stress, and feelings of anger and guilt as their loved one’s condition progresses. One person simply can’t do it alone; you will need to be able to rely on others for assistance.

Investigate Healthy Coping Strategies

As your loved one’s condition progresses and their needs change, you should be able to rely on different coping mechanisms to see you through. Here’s a look at some effective coping strategies you can use throughout the progression of your loved one’s illness:

  • Early Stages – In the early stages of your loved one’s condition, they might not need much additional assistance. They might experience minor cognitive impairment, and that will likely be paired with emotional challenges as they come to terms with their condition. It may be hard for both of you to accept what is happening. This is a good time to join a support group and/or seek out resources from a trusted organization that specializes in memory care. A support group is a safe place to share and process your thoughts, worries, and fears with others. You will also have a chance to prepare yourself for what to expect as the disease progresses. You can get information about how your loved one’s needs and abilities will change, and what you can do to support them. You can also take this time to talk to your loved one while they are still cognizant and lucid about what decisions they would like for you to make as their condition progresses.
  • Middle Stages – By the middle or moderate stage of dementia, it will likely affect every aspect of your loved one’s daily life. This means that the demands made on you as a caregiver will be more demanding mentally, physically, and financially. Your loved one will likely show poor judgment, confusion, and disorientation and begin wandering. They may also exhibit personality changes and mood swings. You should have a plan in place to take time off at least once per month to take care of yourself and do activities you enjoy. Try to rely on family, friends, or a respite care agency for help.
  • Late Stages – As your loved one enters the late stages of dementia, they will require near-constant care and it will likely be time to move them into an assisted living dementia care facility. This facility will have healthcare aides with specialized education and training in caring for patients with dementia. If you experience guilt or other symptoms after helping your loved one make this transition, lean on your family, friends, spiritual leaders, counselors, and support groups to help you navigate your feelings in a safe and healthy way.

Give Yourself Time to Grieve

It is very common for caregivers to experience a wide range of conflicting emotions when caring for a loved one with dementia. No feeling is invalid or inappropriate.

It is very important to give yourself time and space to grieve the loss of your loved one as you knew them. This will help you prepare for the transition into later stages of dementia, as well as into an assisted living memory care facility.

Consider starting a journal or blog, speaking to a counselor or support group, and taking time to yourself to process your feelings.

Know When to Ask for Help

If you don’t ask for help when you need it, you’re much more likely to experience burnout. Caring for a loved one, especially one who has a degenerative condition like dementia, takes a huge physical, mental, and emotional toll.

It’s important to know that you aren’t alone. If you don’t seek help and assistance when necessary, you risk illness, exhaustion, depression, stress, fatigue, and mental and physical illness. If you don’t have family or friends you can rely on, do some research on respite care facilities.

These facilities can offer in-home care services to your loved one while you take a much-needed break. They typically offer assistance with bathing, dressing, meals, medication, and light housework. They also provide mental stimulation and socialization.

Take Breaks to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is a common occurrence. Caregiving is an immense responsibility that can take a physical, mental, and emotional toll. You are also being relied on to make major life decisions for someone else’s benefit, which can be overwhelming and exhausting.

It’s not at all unusual to feel guilty, stressed out, angry, and frustrated. If you begin feeling caregiver burnout, you might start avoiding social activities and interactions and become withdrawn.

This will only make you feel more depressed and isolated. Make sure to take breaks whenever possible to focus on your own life, interests, needs, and health.

Explore Stress Management Tools

Explore stress management tools and activities as part of your self-care:

  • Acknowledge your feelings, no matter what they are.
  • Join a support group.
  • Start journaling or blogging to get your feelings out in a healthy, creative way.
  • Explore respite care and assisted living dementia care facilities.
  • Work with a mental health professional and/or spiritual leader.
  • Talk to a family advisor about your options.
  • Take breaks as necessary.
  • Practice self-care.

Understanding Changing Family Dynamics

Family dynamics can change significantly when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia. It can cause stress in family relationships, and lead some family members to believe they are doing or helping more than others.

The combination of physical, emotional, and financial burdens often cause fights, disagreements, and challenges as family members have trouble believing the burdens are split equally.

For the caregiver, it can also be hard to reconcile the fact that you are now caring for a parent. It might help to seek group or family counseling, or find strategies for resolving issues and communicating effectively with each other.

Recognize the Need to Seek Assisted Living Memory Care

Eventually, the time will come where you will need to transition your loved one into an assisted living memory care facility. Plan ahead by looking into which organizations or providers can offer an assisted living placement.

You will need a facility that specifically offers Alzheimer’s care or dementia care. These facilities offer socialization options and stimulating activities, and can give your loved one a safe place to live.

Request Assisted Living Placement in Tucson, AZ

If you need assisted living placement in Tucson, AZ, contact us at Placita In Home Care. We offer assisted living memory care for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia. We provide respite services, in-home care services, and assisted living placement at all stages of dementia. Call us today or fill out our contact form online to learn more.