They’ve spent a lifetime loving you, looking after you and making sure you had everything you needed. Now they’ve been diagnosed with dementia you might feel it’s your turn to do the same for them. Whilst there’s no denying this sounds like the logical, sensible thing to do, caring for a parent with dementia can be fraught with practical difficulties and emotional pain.

Role reversal
Perhaps the biggest change you’ll have to cope with is the way your relationship with your mum or dad could gradually change. Caring for them means you will inevitably take on more of the practical tasks and duties they were, perhaps until recently, able to do for themselves. The realisation that they may now have to rely on you, can be difficult to accept and to deal with.

How you might feel:
* Overwhelmed: I’m not ready for this – what if I just can’t do it?
* Loss/grief: I miss them. I want my mum/dad back.
* Resentment: Why me? Why should I be the one to do this?

It’s complicated
Parent/child relationships are often complex. Caring for a mother or father who has always loved you unconditionally is quite different to caring for one who has been distant or cold. Maybe you don’t really want to become their carer but feel pressure to do it from other people, or perhaps you assume you have no choice because other options, such as professional care, are too expensive.

Could this be YOU?
Perhaps you’ve never had a very good relationship with your mum or dad, maybe you had a difficult childhood, maybe they made some big mistakes, but now everyone keeps telling you that ‘you’re the parent now’ so you must put all these difficult feelings to one side and focus on their needs. No wonder you feel depressed and resentful.

Caring for a parent with dementia: What can help

Become an expert
The more you learn about dementia (particularly the type of dementia they have) the more confident you’ll feel about your ability to cope. Knowing you have the skills and knowledge to deal with the challenges you might face along the way could prove very satisfying.

Find peer support
Meeting other family carers (particularly those who are also caring for parents) can be invaluable. If there’s nothing nearby, or getting out is too difficult, consider an online support group where you can let off steam and share tips and advice with others in a similar position. Try the Unforgettable Dementia Support group here.

Accept all offers of help
If someone says; ‘is there anything I can do?’ Don’t just smile stoically and shake your head. Ask how much time they can spare and then act accordingly. For example, if they could sit with your mum for 30-minutes, you could soak in a bath without any interruptions. A two-hour break could give you time to meet a friend for a coffee. Longer than that and the choices widen further.

What DOESN’T help: Trying to be perfect
No matter what you do, you will never be able to achieve perfection, so do yourself a favour and stop trying!

Grieving for the parent you’ve lost…and loving the one you have now
Caring for a parent with dementia often has an added poignancy. As the dementia journey progresses, most people find they slowly accept and manage the changes that occur. Many find satisfaction in being able to ‘give back’ to their parent the same love and care they once had themselves. Whilst there’s no denying dementia can bring some upsetting changes, it can also bring a few surprises too. Some adult children find that a once difficult relationships becomes easier; a father who was remote becomes more loving, a mother who once seemed mean becomes sweet. Try to make the most of any unexpected moments of joy or laughter – write them down or record them if you can. They might become memories to treasure.

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