Often dementia can go undiagnosed for years with loved ones managing the memory loss and mood swings without fully understanding the implications; never realizing that there are ways to manage both the emotional and financial costs. For many, it may be the first time they have encountered the illness, which makes it all the more crucial that compassionate bystanders are on hand with support when they need it most.
We’re going to give some down to earth advice about how to help families who may be struggling with managing a loved one’s symptoms. As well as some tips for families in the early stages who have plenty of time to prepare pragmatically for the future.
A few ways to help support caregivers
1. Remind caregivers to take stock of the emotional costs of caring for loved ones and support them as they take time for self-renewal.
Losing a loved one in increments is hard on anyone. Often families are so locked into the battle against dementia, trying to stave off memory loss, personality changes and mood swings, that they deplete their emotional health. One of the kindest things you can do is check in with them and see how they’re coping. It may be as simple as sitting down for a cup of coffee and letting them vent or as involved as helping them find a local support group. Whatever it is, support them to take care of their emotional and mental health. It is just as crucial as caring for a loved one with dementia.
2. Encourage caregivers to seek a formal diagnosis.
Broaching the subject of dementia can often be an emotionally loaded conversation, especially when it is progressing undiagnosed. Perhaps you can bring up the issue indirectly, generally enquiring about their loved one’s health or asking what the doctor has been saying. You might show concern for some of the strange behaviours you’ve noticed. Often, family members will have noted similar things, but don’t know where to start. If you know a local doctor who has an empathetic touch, why not offer to give them the details of the clinic. Sometimes simple gestures can go a long way when families are struggling to come to terms with the situation.
3. Recommend a pragmatic approach to decision making.
Particularly in the early stages, when everyone is still thinking straight, it might be wise to recommend the family starts thinking about how to manage dementia as it progresses. From bills to housing, to caregiving, it is smarter to plan than try to pick up the pieces later. Planning is also a fair way for families to spread the load — rather than the person who lives closest taking on the full burden of care. Even those living abroad may be able to chip in by paying online bills. Every family will come to a different arrangement, and it’s crucial that key decision-makers are appointed for health care and finances, to avoid conflict later. Advising families to have this kind of conversation as early as possible will help reduce both emotional and financial costs.
4. Suggest that caregivers take a financial inventory.
It’s essential that families understand all the assets on hand to help pay for care and housing. It can be awkward to figure out what an elderly parent has, and they may have become secretive due to dementia. Often, seniors will have money stowed in multiple accounts as well as hidden in their home, and grappling with how much is available to afford them a better quality of life can be difficult. If they’re reluctant to share their finances with relatives, perhaps advise the family to invest in a financial planner to help sort things out.
We know that broaching these subjects is tricky, but you may find others underprepared for what lies ahead. If you do try to offer advice, remember that these are emotionally-charged situations and not everyone will respond well. Perhaps, one person will welcome a nudge towards a financial inventory, while others will be thankful for the opportunity to sit down and talk to someone who cares about what they’re going through.