Two brilliant lessons to learn if you have a parent with dementia

I know something is amiss, but I’m not exactly sure what it is. Then I read someone else’s battle story in dealing with a parent with dementia and my brain shrieks EUREKA!

I’m really not sure what lured me in because it was story about a woman who abused her son and he told the nursing facility he wasn’t interested in being involved. Something in Struggling with an Abusive Aging Parent demanded me to read it – and I’m glad I did.

While I could not connect with the circumstances, the lessons the author, Marc E. Agronin, M.D., were gems worth sharing.

  1. Accept that the mind and the heart different. Agronin shares that “there is ineffable value to the child-parent relationship that transcends most conflicts, so that the heart will yearn for a connection that the mind may reject. It is possible to communicate with someone and to support their needs without having to endorse current behaviors or forgive past ones.”While I had a better than normal upbringing, my brain knows that the two people in my parent’s bodies are not the people who raised me, but some days, they talk, laugh and convince me that my parents still embody the human forms I face.I want them to be my parents, but I need to engage them as two head-injured adults who look, talk, laugh and sometimes engage me in ways that make me long for my parents.

    I really do miss them.

  2. Parental relationships require reinvention.  As children, we changed and grew, and so must our relationship with our parents.  Agronin reminds us that “there is always a choice about which moments from the present and past to use in forming a relationship. Too much focus on past wrongs can rob the present of any redeeming moments, while fixation on a glorious past can obscure the reality of the present, especially when medical or psychiatric illness has changed the persona.”I’ve wondered if the really nasty things that my parent have done were hidden personality quirks. I know I’m not the ONLY one who has considered this idea!

    The woman who helps us with our kids is a graduate student studying Speech and Language. She told me about a recent program speaker who shared that her client, who had a husband suffering from dementia, would wake her in the night and tell her to leave the bed, his wife would be coming home soon and she couldn’t be found in the bed with him. Could you have your spouse say this to you and not wonder if they cheated on you in the past?

    Agronin reminds us to re-invent our relationship to focus on the “more palatable or even lofty characteristics, while ignoring, de-emphasizing or redirecting the more unacceptable ones. It’s a form of selective engagement.”

Ultimately, you will realize you have to change. Your parent is no longer capable of it. Shifted.

4 thoughts on “Two brilliant lessons to learn if you have a parent with dementia

    1. Thank you Kate. If only my parents would share one small fear outside themselves.

      Neither will share any concerns with their doctor.

      My mom will argue with the doctor, and then deny she saw the doctor (I’m pretty sure becuase she doesn’t remember, or will report seeing the doctor who gave a different outcome like “our driver’s licenses were returned”.)

      One person told me, if you have met one person with dementia, you met one person with dementia.

      Not all with dementia act the same. I admire your willingness to share, and only wish my parents would let someone help them lead an easier existence. I know this is very hard for them too.

      1. They are probably ‘old school’ my parents, and so it would only be ‘my (their) way, or the highway’ which could be a complicating factor. I’m pretty sure my parents would even refuse to see a doctor if either thought the other had dementia, and would simply help each other cover it up! There is no easy way, that’s for sure. Look after yourself and have little breaks so you can keep caring in your beautiful way.

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