Popular accounts of dementia in the media often fail to capture its sheer brutality. The pain of dementia extends far beyond the person suffering from it, affecting entire families and relationships — often for years and even generations. Whereas popular depictions often present dementia as memory loss or forgetfulness, families facing dementia know that dementia can be much more.
Fans of the hit series This Is Us have always relished the show’s realism. It flawlessly captures the conflicted relationships that make us human, and the many struggles that make a person who they are. In its fall finale episode, “So Long Marianne,” Pearson family matriarch Rebecca’s memory loss takes center stage. The show pulls no punches as it presents the agony of an uncertain dementia diagnosis.
How This Is Us Gets Dementia Right
The episode begins with the family’s Thanksgiving meal preparations. Several episodes had raised suspicion that Rebecca may have dementia, but this episode put her symptoms on full display.
While on an outing to a bakery, Rebecca repeatedly gets lost and confused, cannot remember how to call her son, and is unable to get home. Struggling with daily activities is a common characteristic of dementia that can be incredibly frightening. It also may lead to conflicts between a person’s need for independence and entertainment, and their need to remain safe.
In a flash forward, things look even grimmer. During a family celebration, Rebecca asks her son Kevin where Randall, her other son, is. He reminds her that he and Randall are not speaking. Families often fight over care, resources, and diagnostic decisions, especially when they do not have adequate support.
This leaves family members facing additional stress at an already painful time. People who once leaned on one another may now actively undermine one another. Meanwhile, a struggling senior is left in the middle of a fight they may not understand, or even remember.
Effective Dementia Management Strategies
Managing dementia begins long before a loved one shows signs of cognitive impairment. Every family should talk about their preferences for late-life care. It’s also important to drill down into the nitty-gritty financial realities of dementia care. A lawyer can help you explore your options, and may recommend beefing up your savings account or investing in long-term care insurance.
Some other strategies that can help families deal with the realities of dementia include:
- Getting an accurate diagnosis as early as possible. Don’t assume that every case of forgetfulness is Alzheimer’s. Knowing what you’re dealing with can help you plan for the future.
- Developing a care plan together. Involve each family member in the process, and ask what each is willing to do. Often, one person becomes the caregiver while everyone else criticizes that person’s decisions. Instead, encourage everyone to contribute something.
- Talking to a care coordinator. Geriatric care coordinators specialize in helping seniors and their families explore care options that work with their lifestyle.
- Learning practical dementia management strategies. You may need to change the way you talk to or interact with your loved one. Small changes can make a big difference. Check out Teepa Snow, a respected occupational therapist whose lighthearted videos help families manage the big issues they face when dementia rears its ugly head.
How Quality Senior Living Makes a Difference
Dementia is a disease that affects entire families. Relationships and loyalties can shift. Primary caregivers may feel exhausted and burned out, or wonder whether their care makes any difference at all. For many, supporting a person with dementia is a thankless and demoralizing task — but one they perform willingly because of their love for this person. Depression is common among caregivers, and many end up with health issues of their own.
Caregivers need help, and families need support. The right senior living community alleviates many of the burdens of dementia without restraining a senior’s independence or encroaching on their ability to live life as they see fit. Dementia doesn’t have to strain relationships or cause estrangements. It’s a powerful chance for families to come together and support one another.
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