How to help confused parents
Dear Nurse Kris:
My mom has dementia and lives alone at home. I live in the same city and see her a number of times during the week and am in touch by phone a few times a day too. She has private care aides coming by in the morning and the evening to give her her medications and to ensure her evening care needs are addressed.
She is forgetting more and more and sometimes she seems confused all of a sudden and forgets who people are and thinks no one has been in to visit for days.
What I'm finding as her memory loss progresses, is if I have to take her to the doctor for something, inevitably her memory loss is part of why she has to go, and I never know how to speak to the doctor in front of her for fear of hurting her feelings. Do I speak to the doctor privately? Call him first before we come? Will he even talk to me?
Thanks, Monica from Vernon
First, I applaud you for being able to keep your mom at home. As a family member, having to deal with a loved one's memory loss can be life changing. The person you know and love seems to gradually become a different person. Having good communication, planning for the future and being involved in decision making are
Your mom needs to be involved in all conversations and continue to be treated with dignity and respect.
When she has sudden onset confusion, there is usually a simple explanation for that. One of the biggest challenges in life is parenting your parent. Making sure you advocate and guide her to make good decisions is done by being actively involved with your mom.
When you have to take your mom to the doctor about her memory loss, I would address this
with her first, at home, when you have her full attention. Speak to her with kindness and let her know you are concerned about her not remembering things lately. Give recent examples and let her respond. Expect her to be a little defensive and as well she may not remember the situations you refer to. Let her know you are concerned for her well being and you think a friendly visit with her doctor is in order.
If there are things you must let the doctor know about that you simply cannot say in front of her, then I would fax the doctor, or speak to the receptionist ahead of time. Ask discretely when you arrive at the check-in desk if the information you provided has been seen or will be seen by the doctor before he sees the both of you. Come prepared with the fax or note, so that in case the doctor has not received this info, ask the receptionist to place it on your mom's chart and request the doctor read that before you go in with her.
When you take your mom into the exam room, speak to both your mom and doctor at the same time, using simple, pleasant language:
"Dr. Smith we are here to see you today because Mom is not remembering things very well lately."
Turn and face your mom and continue;
"The other day, Mom, you saw your neighbour, Jennifer, and talked with her for half an hour in the driveway, but you didn't remember that the next morning when I talked to you. Mom, I'm just concerned that there might be something that we need to find out because this isn't like you."
A conversation which includes your mom is what you, as her advocate, are aiming for.
One of the biggest challenges in life is, how do you parent your parent?
Continuing to be actively involved with your mom is the best way to ensure you can have both good and awkward conversations. You'll find that your mom will be relying on you more, to help make decisions about her circumstances. Do let her be a part of the decisions and use her wishes to guide you in advocating for her. Simply offer her advice, guidance and your unwavering love and support.
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