Ah the insidious (sometimes) slow but devastating effects of aging. If you have a loved one who seems to be slipping mentally, that first realization is the beginning of the hardest part. The hardest part is in determining when is the person slipping mentally going to need help? Because, like your drunk friends in college, when someone impaired needs help, they are oftentimes the most resistant to that help and will fight you to the end to avoid accepting the fact that they do need help.
My first advice to those who are working with or living with or have responsibilities for someone who is aging is to learn as much about whatever the problem is. Loosing cognition and having moments of forgetfulness are two different things. I used to say, “If you lose your car keys, then that is normal aging. If you forget what those keys are for, then you have a cognitive issue.”
For, you see, someone with cognitive issues will have difficulty in reasoning. And, it takes reasoning to get someone to take action against their will. That goes by the wayside with losing cognition. I had a client, the mother of a good friend, who gracefully sank into dementia, but not without a fight about the car. And, this lovely and sophisticated lady was adamant about driving herself, even though she really could not have found her way home. So, what did we creatives do? We took (this will age this story) the wires to the distributor cap off so the car would not start. Don’t you know, that in a moment of clarity, she tried to start the car, then popped the hood, took a quick look, and then said, “Well, no wonder it does not work.” And then proceeded to place the distributor wires back as they should have been. And, all of this from a lady who I would have sworn had never been under a car hood in her life. But, somewhere in her childhood there was a time she did, and that long standing memory served her well in this instance. End of story was that we had to get rid of the car, as she was very inventive about how to sneak it out and certainly called upon skills that I would have thought long gone.
Back to learning all you can about the disease. I still like the age old, but updated in 2012 as a Fifth Edition, Mace and Robbins book the 36 Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss. It has both the physiological and behavioral aspects of dementia, and offers up some great solutions and helps with understanding the disease itself. Another great resource is Teepa Snow. She has lots of information about brain change and how best to work with those who are experiencing it. Changing the environment as opposed to trying to change the person is one clue to making life easier.
Living with someone experiencing physical or mental changes is a challenge. The losses that come with aging are impossible to mimic until you get there yourself. Trust me when I say that the best thing you can do is to learn about whatever behavior or issue is predominant in the problem, and also seek professional help.
Be aware that not one size fits all when aging is involved. Health, lifestyle, diet, support, financial means….all of these make a difference in the problem and the solution. So, reach out to professional help to someone who has experience in aging, and uses a multi-dimensional approach.