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Parents With Dementia - Helping Your Healthy Parent Cope

Update Date: Apr 09, 2021 08:41 PM EDT
Parents With Dementia - Helping Your Healthy Parent Cope
(Photo : Istock)

If you're used to your parents being a good team, it may come as a shock when one of them is diagnosed with dementia. It may take some time to set in, but the reality of it is that your healthy parent may need a lot of help. They might not be as strong or robust - and dealing with someone who has dementia or is otherwise incapacitated is a full-time job. 

The key is to balance being helpful with not seeming invasive. This is a very hard stage in people's lives, where they have to learn how to accept help from people. This might be hard to accept, even if the people offering help are the ones closest to us. Our friends over at who are professionals when it comes to dealing with people who have dementia gave us some helpful steps and tips for helping to take care of a parent with dementia and helping your other parent cope with the changes in the relationship with their spouse. 

Listen to the cries for help

Most people with dementia, even in the early stages, will have trouble communicating their needs. Once it gets worse, there may be a period where they'll become very agitated and you might just have to do something to help. Small things like making sure you turn on the TV or something that helps them feel safe and secure. It's very frustrating for a parent with dementia to be around a caregiver who can't relate but it doesn't have to be that way.

Understand the changes

Dementia is a progressive condition and each day it gets worse. It doesn't mean they're not the same person they were before but their limitations might force you to adapt your relationship to them. This may sound harsh, but it's true and they will need help communicating and doing everyday tasks. You will probably even have to make some decisions for them. Accepting that you will be the one making decisions and communicating with professionals on their behalf is an important part of helping your parents with dementia.

Don't forget about your healthy parent

You're not just caring for your parent with dementia, you also have to care for your healthy parent as well. Don't become so wrapped up in your new role as a caregiver that you neglect your spouse and the other parent. There are many resources available to help both of you cope and you'll also have to learn how to communicate effectively with each other about how you both feel.

Get professional help

This is something you may not feel comfortable doing, especially if there is a stigma attached to getting help with a parent's dementia. But it's something you shouldn't feel ashamed about. There are support groups specifically for people who are coping with parents with dementia and also crisis intervention services and other resources available to help you cope with your own emotions over the changes that have taken place in your family.

Don't be your parent's caretaker alone.

There may be times when you'll need extra help especially if you have another child or are working as well as dealing with a parent with dementia. Make sure that you ask friends and family for help when you need it and don't feel like it's a burden that you alone have to shoulder. You should also seek help from local agencies and professionals who can assist you with getting your parent with dementia the care that they need.

Keep a personal care journal for your parent with dementia

This helps both you and your healthy parent cope with the changes that have taken place. It shows them that they haven't suddenly become an invalid and that they can still do things they enjoy and are used to doing. It's also a great way for them to express themselves and communicate how they feel without feeling guilty about asking for help all the time.

Planning Ahead

Plan ahead for upcoming events, like holidays or birthdays, so that your healthy parent doesn't feel like they have to get everything done alone. They may be under enormous pressure, not only from the circumstances but also because of how people react to the idea of their spouse being incapacitated. If they do everything alone, they may become resentful, or angry, which is counterproductive to the healing process. Make sure you plan ahead and communicate well with each other so that both of you are prepared for what is going on. If one of you needs help in advance, don't feel like it's a burden, and ask people for help early on so that they have time to prepare and organize things.

Be Prepared for Isolation

There may be times when your healthy parent needs time alone, and they may feel isolated from family and friends because of how society views people with dementia. This is a normal reaction, so don't be surprised if they withdraw from some events or places they used to enjoy going to. They might want to spend time at home alone or need some space away from other people who might not understand what they are going through. You may end up being their only source of company, so don't take it personally if they are upset with you or withdraw from normal social activities. However, pay attention, as social isolation can be harmful in certain situations.

Find ways to cope with your own feelings of sadness or anger

You may feel guilty for having these feelings but it's normal to have mixed emotions about how this has changed your family dynamic, and how much your parent has changed as a result of their illness. It's okay to go through this process, but make sure you recognize it for what it is, just a new kind of normal for everyone involved in the family dynamic. You might also find that changing the way you view your parent's relationship will help you cope better with their change in health status. Use all of the coping mechanisms available to you, including talk therapy, support groups, and even writing in a journal about how you're feeling is often helpful as well.

Accept help when it is offered to you from friends and family members

It may be hard for people outside of the immediate family to understand what you are going through but just as they spent time taking care of your parent when they were younger, now is the time for them to step up and take care of both of you during this difficult time in your lives. It may seem like a lot of work has fallen on one person in the family, but everyone must take turns and play their part in the family dynamic during this time and don't feel guilty for accepting help from others in this process.


Dealing with dementia can be tiring, sad, and confusing for everyone involved. It's hard to see someone that you know and love, slowly turn into a shell of who they once were. Someone who brought you into this world is soon not going to recognize who you are and that is something that no one should have to go through, but unfortunately, there is still no cure for this awful disease. While it is easy to get wrapped up in your own emotions, it is also important to be there 100% for your other parent as well. They will need all the support they can get right now. If you are someone who has their own family, works too far from home, or just don't know how to take care of someone with dementia there are many resources out there, and professionals who offer live-in care, who can make your life much easier.

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