Memory Care: Navigating a Difficult Conversation

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Having a conversation about your loved ones’ health is already a difficult topic to broach. However, when the loved one in question is in need of memory care this conversation becomes even more difficult to have. There is not only the concern over your loved ones care and health, but also how other family members might take the news that their family member needs memory care. To help prepare you for this conversation, we have come up with a couple of tips to make the conversation a little easier to have for everyone involved.

Observe your loved ones behaviors

Think of this process as a fact finding mission to familiarize yourself with your loved ones current health care needs. This will help both to express to your family why your loved one needs additional care as well as to advise the healthcare professional that will be responsible for you loved one’s care. Below are some behaviors and questions to help you on your mission:

– Does your loved one frequently forget information that they could easily recall before? Does he or she confuse who family members and friends are? Does he or she forget where/when he or she is? Do commonplace items end up misplaced in odd places (think keys in the freezer)?

– Has he or she had an accident such as fall in recent times? Did it take your loved one longer than normal to recover from their accident?

– Has your loved experienced drastic weight change? Do they seem to be as strong as usual? Or do they struggle to stand up? Can they balance while standing? Or do they wobble when they walk or stand?

– Are they able to still suitably dress themselves? Do they still cook? Are they still doing laundry properly? Are they properly cleaning themselves and are they groomed?

– How is mail being handled? Is it stacked high unopened? Are bills being looked at and paid? Are newspapers being ignored?

– How about the inside of the house. Does is it look clean? Does it smell clean? Are their spills that appear to be dry? Is their clutter that used to not be there?

– Now check the kitchen. Does the kitchen appear to be in regular use? Is it clean? Are dishes piled in the sink? Is their spoiled or expired foods in the fridge or pantry? Are their extraneous multiples of items—like 12 jars of tomato sauce? Are there any broken appliances? Are there are singe marks on the walls or stove? Do pots appear too burned beyond repair?

Don’t wait to have the conversation

It can be very difficult to start a conversation about anyone’s care; however, it is even more uncomfortable or awkward to initiate a conversation about your parents care with them or with other family members. Despite this difficulty though, you are never going to be certain of what others think if you do not talk to them. Moreover, waiting can make the conversation even harder to have. It helps to prepare ahead of this conversation by coming up with questions and talking points that you would like to cover with your loved ones. Your conversation might occur when not all involved members may be present, so remember to plan ways to keep everyone in the loop and avoid unexpected surprises for them and you.

Ask then listen so you can collaborate on solutions

After taking the difficult first step of initiating the conversation, sit back and listen to what everyone else has to say. What are their concerns? What are their worries? Actively listen to everyone and try not to dismiss any points they bring up—no matter how inconsequential as they may seem to you. They are obviously important to your family members, for one reason or another, and as such deserve your time and consideration.

After everyone has a turn to state their point, present your solutions to the group more as suggestions that are open for discussion instead of absolutes. No one likes to feel like they are being forced onto a specific path of action. They are much more likely to be open to your ideas if you are willing to discuss them. More importantly, keep yourself open for alternative solutions. Someone else might be able to present an even better course of action, because of their different perspective on the problem.

Further, there is bound to be more than one concern brought up by you and your loved ones. Instead of trying to tackle the whole lot from the start, prioritize concerns from those that need to be addressed most immediately to those that can stand to wait. Make sure to discuss this within the group. Remember that there may not be a consensus. Instead you might choose to create a prioritized action plan within your family as to who is doing what and in which order.

Keep calm and relax

Make sure not to take on too much on yourself during the process of figuring out how to get your loved one the care they need. Trying to rush things can lead both to burn out and mistakes; neither of which is good for you or your loved ones. As suggested above, try to spread duties across a couple of family members and friends that are willing and able to take them on. Many hands make light work. To avoid confusion, be explicit in who is doing what and make sure everyone is aware of who is responsible for what.

Finally, remember that these types of decisions do not resolve themselves overnight. Instead, think of the conversation about your loved one’s care as a process and processes take time! Try also not to fixate on what you cannot accomplish now. This is one of the main sources of stress for caregivers when making decisions about their loved ones care. Try instead to come up with healthy outlets that can divert your attention and give you a chance to unwind.