The signs of an otherwise healthy parent’s dementia can start small – you notice a few dents on mom’s car; her mail sits in unopened piles on the counter; you start to see piles of dirty dishes when you visit, or unmade beds. When subtle changes in behavior become harder to ignore, it can be unsettling at best – and difficult to know the most helpful way to address the situation. Here are 5 important steps to take right away if you suspect dementia symptoms:
- Meet With Mom’s Primary Care Physician: Get clear on what her health status is now; how that’s likely to change, and at what rate; what level of care she should be receiving, in both the short- and long-term; and whether they have any recommendations on specific communities.
- Start Looking at Communities: Find at least three in the area that you can visit and compare. All should meet the physician’s long-term prognosis for your mom; moving her will be an ultimately rewarding but stressful process you don’t want to have to repeat in a year. Meet with the Executive Director of each community, and get specific information on cost breakdown – which amenities are included in rent costs, and which are broken out separately (like food, or clinical care visits). Get a tour of the entire residence, and make sure you’re able to grab a few minutes to chat with some who live there. Take a look at how they interact with staff; is there a comfort and trust level among them? These are the kinds of details that can only be gleaned through on-site, comparative visits.
- Consult with a Financial Advisor: This is a key meeting to include siblings, if you have any. Now that you’ve researched a range of continuing care costs, layer those against mom’s financial resources, and get help determining what exactly she can afford – and whether you and your siblings will need to chip in. Make sure to take the physician’s long-term prognosis into account in terms of budgeting for predicted increases in care costs.
- Regroup At a Family Meeting: Whether it’s in person, by Skype, or conference call, get all involved parties together to review the facts and determine next steps. Decide whether some follow-up needs to happen – a repeat site visit, or digging into client reviews online – and make a timeline for transitioning mom into a living arrangement that you can all afford and be comfortable with.
- Above All, Keep Mom Involved and Engaged: Seniors need to feel control over their lives, no matter what their health status. Change for mom will no doubt cause some anxiety – but that feeling will only worsen if she feels shut out of the process, or railroaded into an unfamiliar living situation. Find ways to include mom in the fact-finding that inform and empower her without adding to her anxiety. These can include showing her photos from site visits, or bringing her along; giving her a prominent place at the family meeting table; or scheduling a separate conversation with her and her doctor.