If you have an elderly parent with dementia, you’re not alone. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.7 million Americans aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease—the most common type of dementia—and that number is expected to rise to 14 million by 2050. As a caregiver, it’s important to know what you’re up against and what you can do to help your parent through this difficult time.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability. It affects memory, language, problem-solving, and other cognitive skills. People with dementia may have trouble remembering familiar people, places, or things. They may also have trouble with everyday activities such as shopping or paying bills.
Dementia is not a specific disease but rather an overall term that describes symptoms that can be triggered by a variety of diseases and conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but there are many others. Dementia is not a normal part of aging, but the risk of developing it does increase with age. Approximately one in 10 people over the age of 65 and one in three people over the age of 85 have some form of dementia. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing dementia, many things can be done to help people with the condition live their best lives possible.
What Causes Dementia?
Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in cognitive function. It can affect memory, judgment, and language skills. Dementia is also caused by physical changes in the brain. These changes are usually associated with disease or injury. Dementia has many potential causes, but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease are also other causes of dementia.
In some cases, multiple factors may contribute to cognitive decline. Dementia is diagnosed based on symptoms, medical history, and neurological exam. There is no one test that can diagnose dementia. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and supporting patients and caregivers. There is no cure for dementia, but early diagnosis and intervention can improve the quality of life.
How Can I Help My Parent If They Have Dementia?
If your parent has been diagnosed with dementia, there are a few things you can do to help them manage the condition and make the most of their quality of life:
- Learn as much as you can about the condition. The more you understand what your parent is going through, the better equipped you’ll be to provide support.
- Encourage them to stay active both mentally and physically. Keeping their mind active can help slow the progression of dementia, while exercise can improve their mood and overall health.
- Make sure they’re eating a healthy diet and taking any medications prescribed by their doctor. A nutritious diet provides the fuel their brain needs to function optimally. At the same time, medications can help manage symptoms and slow disease progression.
- Create a support network of family and friends who can offer assistance when needed. It’s important not to try to go it alone—having others chipping in will help lighten your load and allow you to take breaks when needed.
- Consider respite care or memory care if caring for your parent becomes too difficult or if they need more intensive assistance than you can provide on your own. These types of care facilities specialize in caring for individuals with dementia and can provide around-the-clock supervision if necessary.
What Are My Parent’s Rights If They Have Dementia?
It’s important to know that your parent still has rights even if they have been diagnosed with dementia. These include the right to:
- Make their own decisions, including decisions about their medical care
- Communicate their wishes about end-of-life care
- Live in a safe and comfortable environment
- Be treated with respect and dignity
- Have their privacy respected
To ensure their rights are respected, you may consider hiring an adult guardianship lawyer. An adult guardianship lawyer can help you navigate the legal process of becoming your parent’s legal guardian. This will give you the authority to make decisions on their behalf if they can no longer do so themselves. This is important because, as dementia progresses, your parent may not be able to make sound decisions about their care and treatment.
Caring for a parent with dementia can be challenging. Still, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone—millions of Americans are facing the same situation. With knowledge and support, you can help your parent live a full life despite this condition.