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Keeping Connection With Aging Parent

Q: My mother is in her 80s now and showing symptoms of dementia. Her short-term memory is so poor that she can't remember what she said ten minutes ago. It's as if we're already losing her. How can we communicate and keep up a meaningful heart-to-heart connection?

Jim: Caring for a loved one with dementia may be difficult, but it also has its meaningful moments. Our counselors have several suggestions for someone in your shoes.

Stay open to the possibility of connecting with your mom in simple ways -- for instance, by sitting with her in the twilight, holding her hand, brushing her hair and witnessing her contented smile. Caregivers may also find a deep sense of fulfillment in the reversal of the parent-child relationship, cherishing the opportunity to nurture their aging loved one.

While you can expect to be surprised by times of joy, living with someone who is afflicted by dementia can take a severe toll on the caregiver and their family. As you move through this phase in your relationship with your mother, make sure that you're taking care of yourself. Watch for signs of over-stress and burnout. Be especially aware that the frustration and confusion you're encountering can leave you feeling angry, guilty, depressed and overwhelmed. You may experience emotions of grief and sadness if your mom lashes out at you or no longer recognizes you. So, it's important to protect your own mental and emotional health. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to care for your mother effectively.

If you haven't already, you'll want to educate yourself on the various causes of dementia as well as medications currently being used to treat age-related memory loss. Your mom's doctor can help as you consider treatment cost and potential side effects that need to be balanced against the benefits.

On the practical level, it's important to have a plan of action to help you manage the needs of your loved one and still reserve some time for yourself. Here are some suggested steps to take:

-- Get a diagnosis. The sooner you know whether your mother has dementia that is treatable or untreatable, the better you'll be able to manage the situation.

-- Write a daily schedule. A structured day of planned activities will help promote a sense of routine and stability for your aging loved one.

-- Locate available resources. Take advantage of the services and information available from county and state health or social service agencies. A good starting place is the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (

-- Seek financial and legal advice. Prepare for the future by discussing your mother's needs -- such as wills, trusts and durable power of attorney -- with a professional financial adviser or an attorney.

-- Be realistic about your loved one's changing capabilities. Try to concentrate on your mother's remaining strengths to help her feel loved and valued. Having realistic expectations about her situation will minimize disappointment and frustration for everyone.

-- Ask others to visit your aging loved one. Anyone who knows and loves your mother can provide a familiar face and potential boost to her morale. If your mom is a person of faith, visits from your pastor and other church members can be especially meaningful.

-- Cope with change. Realize what you can and cannot do, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Others are often willing to assist, especially if the requests are very specific and time-limited.

If you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don't hesitate to give our counseling department a call at 855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). I wish you and your mom all the best.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at




(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Hollie Westring at

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