The news that Margaret Thatcher died in a luxury suite at The Ritz Hotel left an uncertain response.  Was it a great way to go – after all, who wouldn’t want to end their days in luxurious surroundings eating delicious morsels of five-star food? Or was there something desperately sad about a confused old lady who saw only her nurse and lived among hotel staff who likely knew little about the care of dementia patients.

How do you look after a relative who no longer recognises you?

Every day, millions of families face the dilemma of how they can best look after a relative whose physical and mental health are failing and who may need the kind of care that even the most loving family can’t provide at home.  The stress of becoming a carer for a parent in your own home can split up couples at worst, and at the very least it can damage a family that is not equipped to weather the storm of physical and emotional upheaval that accompanies it.  How do you make the incredibly difficult decision about the best way to care for a relative who may no longer recognise you, and the chances are, you no longer recognise as the familiar parent you grew up with?

When it’s duty and not love

Additional to this painful dilemma is the fact that not every child has experienced a loving and supportive relationship with his or her parents.  Few people mention this when the wider issue of care for the elderly is publicly debated.  For many people, the responsibility of caring for their parents is a duty, not an act of love.  Which is one of the reasons why so many elderly people languish in old peoples’ homes, apparently ignored by their families.

So how do you make the best possible decision when it comes to the care of a parent with dementia who can no longer fend for themselves?

Three simple guidelines can help:

  • When exploring possible alternatives in terms of care, don’t be bound by the word ‘should’.  Swop it for ‘could’ instead.  This frees up your brain to consider many options rather than settling for an immediate solution that may create huge amounts of stress in the long-term.   ‘We could have Granny to live with us’ creates a different scenario to ‘we should have Granny to live with us’.
  • Stay in your adult self, and as much as you can, retain the image of your parent as another adult who also has very specific needs.  Accept that some unexpected feelings from your childhood, good and bad, will come up when you are dealing with the situation, and if you think it might be helpful, talk to a counsellor to help you cope with these if you find them especially worrying or unsettling.
  • It is unlikely that you will find the perfect care package for your parent, so settle for ‘good enough’ instead.  It may be more helpful to spend your time researching the best ways to communicate with a dementia sufferer, so you can try to continue some kind of relationship with them, rather than travelling the length and breadth of the country to find the perfect care home.  Accept that your own personal resources are limited, and take time to re-charge and look after yourself as well.