The diagnosis of a dementing illness marks a new stage in your life and your family’s life. Challenging decisions and important choices arise, along with uncertainty and often confusion, anxiety or fear. Some decisions might need to be made right away. Others lie ahead. The best future for you and your family depends on understanding what is most important to each of you. Recognizing and communicating your personal values about everyday care enables you and your family to make the right choices, one by one, as the situation changes.
When an individual is diagnosed with dementia, one of the first concerns that families and caregivers face is whether or not that person should drive. A diagnosis of dementia may not mean that a person can no longer drive safely. In the early stages of dementia, some—though not all—individuals may still possess skills necessary for safe driving. Most dementia, however, is progressive, meaning that symptoms such as memory loss, visual-spatial disorientation, and decreased cognitive function will worsen over time.
Could the sadness, loneliness or anger you feel today be a warning sign of depression? It’s possible. It is not unusual for caregivers to develop mild or more serious depression as a result of the constant demands they face in providing care.
More than ever before, caregiving is recognized as a key element of everyday life for millions of families throughout the United States. As our population ages, more families are providing care for an older adult at home, and an increasing number of people will need such care in the future. Current demographic and healthcare trends make this issue even more significant:
Over the past two decades, as the population of seniors—65+ years—has grown, government (local, state, federal) agencies, nonprofit community organizations, for profit businesses and the media have focused increasing attention on the needs of seniors and those who provide them with support, assistance or care. It is estimated that by 2050 the population of people over 65 will be 20.9% of the population. These are startling numbers effecting everyone in the United States.
The best everyday care choices for the person diagnosed with a dementing illness, and for loved ones giving care, depend on an understanding of values and care preferences. Examples of everyday care choices include when to stop driving, how to manage money, whether to purchase or use support services, when to accept care from family members and, at a more personal level, when to bathe and what activities to do.
Our family equation for caregiving developed slowly, over five rigorous years following our father's death. Two sisters and I divide the year into three, with each caregiving our 85 year-old mother four months. Mom spends summer on Kauai.