Americans are increasingly challenged by the need to communicate difficult information to aging family members with dementia. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 5 million of the 43 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease, and another 1.8 million people have some other form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will escalate rapidly in coming years as baby boomers age. In the absence of medical breakthroughs to stop or slow the disease, by 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may more than triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million.
The Aging Life Care Association (ALCA) released the results of a 2014 survey to help American families who face one of the most difficult of these challenges. ALCA (formerly known as the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers) polled 288 professional aging life care professionals, also known as geriatric care managers, from across the country, asking them to identify the most effective strategies for helping a loved one with dementia cope with the loss of their spouse. The top six strategies identified by the aging experts are:
- Remember there are many different stages of dementia. Your loved one’s capacity for understanding, coping and grieving can be very different depending on their stage of dementia. (Identified by 96% of survey respondents)
- If your loved one’s response to reminiscing about their spouse is positive, share old photos and memories. (88%)
- Make sure the surviving spouse is not socially isolated. Schedule visitors on a regular basis and help them keep up with any normal social routines they have. (85%)
- Reassure them there are people who care about them and will care for them. (84%)
- Don’t rush big changes. It may make sense for them at some point to move to a facility, or closer to family. But, if possible, give them time to adapt so there aren’t too many major life changes at once. (81%)
- If they choose to be included in mourning rituals for their spouse, make sure there is someone overseeing this so if the situation becomes too stressful they can leave. (78%)
“With the rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, families are increasingly confronted with this difficult challenge,” said ALCA past-president Emily Saltz. “Our survey shows that knowing your loved one’s stage of dementia and respecting individual differences are key.”
Many of the aging life care professionals surveyed expressed strong views about the need for tailoring your response to the individual, both in terms of their stage of dementia and their personality. Some individual comments included:
- “As each person is unique, each person with dementia is unique. Recognize your loved one’s values, personality and culture.”
- “There are varying types of dementia, some affecting short-term memory more than others and each type has a different appropriate response.”
Other aging life care professionals surveyed by ALCA shared additional tips, including:
- “Do not underestimate their ability to understand, at an emotional level, what they cannot express verbally.”
- “Take cues from the affected person. If they are not aware or focused on the loss, do not remind or instigate a conversation about the loss.”
Source: The Aging Life Care Association (ALCA), formerly known as the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, was formed in 1985 to advance dignified care for older adults and their families in the United States. Aging Life Care Professionals have extensive training and experience working with older adults, people with disabilities, and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. They assist families in the search for a suitable nursing home placement or extended care if the need occurs. The practice of Aging Life Care and the role of care providers have captured a national spotlight, as generations of Baby Boomers age in the United States and abroad. For more information or to access a nationwide directory of Aging Life Care Professionals, please visitaginglifecare.org.