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Dementia – The Time to Call in Help

A family member has dementia. When is the time for help?

It’s a common scenario: Someone in your family has dementia. You’ve known that for a while and have been tearing up your own life to keep theirs as normal as possible. Maybe you’ve even invited that family member into your own home, which at least stopped all the traveling back and forth. Or maybe you’re spending an increasing amount of time at their home keeping things going. But there comes a time when you need additional help.

When is that? How do you know when it’s time to make that call? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to those questions. The best answer is ambiguous – something like, “It depends.” While certain aspects of dementia progression are predictable, variables like rate of progression, mood changes, additional physical limitations, or conditions such as arthritis or diabetes can have a profound effect on how dementia impacts their life, and yours. Family circumstances vary, too, and the stress of caring for someone with dementia can simultaneously bring out the best in families yet challenge even the strongest.

Generally, though, most people wait too long. It’s better to call for help sooner rather than later.

You don’t want to wait until a catastrophe tells you that you should have called for help the day before. Forgetting to turn off the stove, wandering, unsteadiness and risk of falling can have sudden and dramatic implications. Something as simple as waking up in the middle of the night and feeling disoriented can lead to anxiety, confusion, and nighttime activity that will try even the most devoted family member. The goal is always to get ahead of those dangerous situations – but also to avoid becoming so exhausted and overwhelmed yourself that you lose your sanity trying to hold everything and everyone together.

Your family member may insist they don’t want someone else in their home; you may feel guilty and sad even thinking about telling them it’s time. But remember: No matter what the underlying cause, dementia is a progressive disease. You cannot do anything to stop it.

Your job, then, is to do what your family member no longer can do: think clearly and reasonably with the best interests of their safety and well-being in mind. That means considering the risks of each stage, the safety issues at home, and when it will be beneficial to the person with dementia – and the rest of the family – to make a change. Sooner rather than later is usually the better call.

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