Last Thursday, 15 people gathered in a festive, private room at Jose's Mexican Restaurant in Cambridge to delve into the difficult topic of coping with a parent's dementia. Joanne Peskowitz, care manager for JF&CS Your Elder Experts, and I facilitated a lively discussion that ranged from laughter to tears as participants shared their concerns and hard-won wisdom.
Those involved in a parent's care are often juggling many responsibilities. They are dealing with an ongoing emotional and practical upheaval, but they tend to have very little time to get support. By holding this event in a wonderful restaurant with delicious food, we hoped to offer a nice evening out along with support and information.
Topics discussed included the varied ways that families respond to dementia, the importance of recognizing the particular grief that comes when dementia alters a relationship, and ways to keep people with dementia and their care partners socially connected and engaged in pursuits that hold meaning for them. The following points came up again and again during the evening:
- Listening with a truly open mind is the best way to figure out what a parent's needs are.
- Even when someone's words don't make sense, you can "listen" to behavior and nonverbal communication.
- This is a very hard journey. Care partners struggle with the sometimes perplexing and challenging ways that dementia has changed their relationship with their parent and often with other family members as well.
- There is no perfect way to "do" this. Care partners need support and to be forgiving and compassionate toward themselves as they cope with a parent's evolving symptoms and needs.
Beth Soltzberg, LCSW, MBA, manages the Alzheimer's/Related Disorders Family Support program and works as a coordinator with the Parkinson's Family Support Program. These programs of Jewish Family & Children's Service encompass support, education, and the arts.Beth's work includes facilitating caregiver support and education groups, and designing new offerings for families affected by Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Beth earned her MSW and MBA from the University of Chicago and a certificate in end-of-life care from the Smith College School of Social Work. She holds an advanced credential in hospice and palliative care social work.