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Your Caregiving Questions — Answered

AARP's experts offer advice on caring for a loved one.

Question from Ijamsville: My mother will be spending a few weeks with us around the holidays. We haven't seen her for about a year and her dementia is progressing. How can I prepare my kids (11 and 13) for the changes in her?

Amy: It can be confusing for children to see a grandparent with progressing dementia. It's a good idea to talk to your kids about what dementia is — changes in the brain. Explain that the changes in Grandma are the disease, not her. She is still the person they knew — just different now. Talk with your kids about specific things that may happen and how they may react. For example, if Grandma asks them the same question over and over, help them practice smiling and not trying to correct her and taking it in. Try to help them feel comfortable and also give them activity ideas to do with her that will keep her busy and keep them interacting. Role playing is a plus with kids — and remember to encourage them to keep their sense of humor and love.

Comment from Cheryl: Your local Alzheimer's Association may have good resources for kids.

Amy: Cheryl, thanks for the comment. The Alzheimer's Association can be a GREAT resource!

Question from Searching in OH: I've heard such horror stories re: home care workers. How can I find a good agency?

Elinor: No one wants to hire someone who won't take good care. It's so important to be comfortable with the people you choose to care for your loved ones. AARP's Caregiving Resource Center has tips for how to select a home care agency and a home care worker. Most importantly, be sure the agency is certified and licensed, and the workers bonded.

Amy: Another thing to keep in mind is that home care workers from an agency often change. It's a good idea to check in, monitor and keep up on each person who is going into your loved one's home on a regular basis.

Elinor: Here is another link with more specific information on hiring a home care worker.

Question from Elizabeth, Colo.: I want to take my mom's dog because of her mental state — she forgets to feed it or care for it. How can I do that? Or should I?

Amy: Elizabeth, it depends on if your mom is in her own home or in a facility. If she's in a place where there is some assistance, you can often work out with the aides to stop in and feed the dog. If your mom is in her own home, she may be offended if she thinks you don't think she's caring for her dog. I have this issue with my dad sometimes, and I simply go and put food in the doggie dish when Dad is busy with something else. He just sees the dog is eating and the dog is happy!

Elinor: Pets can be so helpful to people with dementia. Maybe there's a neighbor or volunteer in the community who can become a buddy to both your mom and her dog.

Comment from Karen: My mom has had some form of dementia for at least five years now. One of the hardest things my dad had to work through was my mom wanting to wear the same clothes over and over, and the fact that they were dirty. There are six kids so we try and visit as much as possible and give my dad a break. My mom doesn't understand why my dad would talk to her about the clothes she wears because it was never his thing at all — she always bought his clothes and did the laundry for everyone. My mom thought we were taking her clothes when we'd send them to the dry cleaners. If you have any advice on the subject, that would be great.

Elinor: This is such a tough one. And it sounds like you're doing the best you possibly can with a difficult situation. One idea to try to make this work would be to build in times to take her shopping for some new clothes (we all love a new wardrobe).

Amy: Elinor is right on with this. We used to have this problem with my grandmother. Distracting her with outings and other activities while clothes were laundered worked wonders!

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