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Picking Your Battles as a Dementia Caregiver

I’ve cared for my mom who lives with dementia full-time for about 4 years, and I learn something new every day. I’ve learned that I can let go of certain things that I or my mom used to put a lot of importance on.

Over time it has gotten easier to let go of making everyone happy about my mom’s care, making epic memories with my mom, and expecting my mom to be who she used to be.

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We don't have to make everyone happy

I used to worry all the time about how other people were responding to my mom’s dementia behaviors or my own decisions as a caregiver.

I lost sleep over who was mad at me and I spent a lot of time on email and phone calls trying to explain my caregiving decisions to my mom’s family and friends. I wanted everyone’s approval before I could be at peace.

I am learning to let these things go. Not everyone is going to understand our decisions as caregivers and some might even be mad at you about them.

Of course this still bothers me, but I reassure myself that my mom is safe and well-taken care of. I’m picking my battles and deciding to put my energies toward her care and the care of my own family instead.

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We don't have to make epic memories with our loved ones

It can feel urgent and important to make those big memories with our loved ones while they are still with us.

Early in my mom’s Alzheimer’s journey, she really wanted to take my family to Disneyland. It was not an easy trip for her - the crowds were overwhelming, she got stressed when she didn’t know what we were doing next, and we had to plan snack and bathroom breaks for her as well as my kids. But we planned as well as we could and she was able to enjoy it and the time with my kids.

Now my mom is past the point of being able to do any big trips or over-the-top celebrations. We try to slow down, weigh her progress, and think about what she can realistically enjoy. Then we adjust our plans accordingly. And we continue to cherish those big trip memories we made before Alzheimer’s took over.

We don't have to expect our loved one to be who they used to be

Before my mom had dementia, she was a high-octane civil servant, always volunteering at charity events or fulfilling her role as board member of the many local organizations she was an active part of. She exercised every day and was fastidious about her diet.

Now, because of dementia, she prefers to wear some of the same clothes over and over again. She often forgets appointments and important dates, and never passes up a chance to enjoy dessert or a sweet treat.

I wrestle with this a lot. Who is this person? She doesn’t seem much like the mom I used to know. I want to honor who my mom used to be while also respecting who she is now.

Instead of forcing her to be the person she was before dementia, I’m focused on my mom having safety, routine, stimulation, and independence. I want her to feel productive and useful in her everyday life.

I encourage her to be comfortable in whatever clothes she wants to wear and enjoy foods she wants to eat. She is safe and happy. This is a battle worth fighting - letting her be the person she is now, even though it’s different than who she was.

Pick your battles and lighten your load

Caregivers have a monumental job taking care of someone living with dementia. There are so many things to focus on but it’s not humanly possible to cover them all.

Let’s not make our job harder! Alzheimer’s caregivers need to pick their battles. When caregivers focus on the most important things and let go of the rest, we take immense pressure off ourselves and our loved ones.

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