Mom Has Alzheimer’s, but Is Dad Okay?

How to Check In and Care for Your Healthy Parent

When a parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, adult children may naturally focus on the afflicted family member. With all the care that a loved one with dementia requires, it is easy to overlook the needs of the healthy parent. Many healthy husbands and wives become the primary caregiver for their spouse with Alzheimer’s or dementia. This can be an exhausting and thankless task, especially for an elderly spouse. As a family faces a parent’s Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is important to also provide attention, care, and love for the healthy parent as well.

A Healthy Spouse as Caretaker

Almost six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s in the United States. Many of these individuals are married, and a spouse may feel obligated by love and loyalty to care for their husband or wife. In fact, when asked why they became a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s, 38% of caregivers chose “obligation as a spouse or partner,” according to a detailed report by the Alzheimer’s Association.

Providing care and support to someone with Alzheimer’s can be extremely challenging – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Care givers may need to help their spouse bathe, toilet, put on clothing, and eat.Caregivers must also take on more of the workload for the home, such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping for groceries.

These challenges are compounded by the fact that a healthy spouse must endure ongoing changes in the personality and mental well being of their husband or wife. Their spouse with Alzheimer’s may become anxious, depressed, aggravated, or paranoid. They may forget their own children’s names.

It’s no surprise that caregivers report a higher-than-average amount of stress when compared to the general public or even compared to other caregivers who are not dealing with dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly 30% to 40% of family caregivers of people with dementia suffer from depression. Additionally, according to the report, “caregivers of spouses had two and a half times higher odds of having depression than caregivers of people who were not spouses.”

It’s also important to recognize that being the “healthy” spouse might not be an entirely accurate term. The greatest risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s is age. Many caretaker spouses are in their 60s, 70s,80s, or even 90s. Often they are struggling with their own physical ailments on top of providing care for their spouse.

Helping Your Healthy Parent

How can you make sure that your healthy parent is getting the support and help that they need? One answer is to include the healthy parent in your family’s Alzheimer’s care plan. Here are just a couple of things you can do to help lift the burden:

  •  Assign a family member to call or visit the home each week to check on both the healthy parent and the parent with dementia
  • Make an effort to spend time with the healthy parent. Being a caretaker can be very isolating, so call the healthy parent or invite them out to lunch. Let them share their worries and fears.
  • Provide “care breaks” for the caregiver. Volunteer to look after the parent with dementia so that the healthy parent can spend time away from the house. Encourage the healthy parent to see a movie,catch up with old friends, or continue pursuing their hobbies.
  • Pitch in. Offer to go grocery shopping for your parents. Take the parent with dementia to doctors appointments. Ask if anything around the house needs to be fixed.
  • Host family dinners. It may be hard for a healthy parent to go out to public events or places with a spouse with Alzheimer’s, so invite them to your home where they can enjoy a warm meal with an understanding and supportive family.
  • Hire a home health aide or offer to pay for adult day care. If you don’t live near your parents, you can still help. If you are financially able, offer to pay for a home health aide to visit the home and assist with care and house chores. Alternatively, you can offer to pay for adult daycare, which will allow your healthy parent to get well-deserved breaks.

If you notice that caregiving is becoming more than your aging parent can handle, it might be time to discuss moving your parent with dementia into a memory care facility. This may be a difficult decision to make, but often, it is the right one. Your healthy parent deserves to live a fulfilling and happy life as well.

If you want to spend time with your healthy parent and get them out of the house, we invite you both to attend our free public caregiver’s support group each month. Here, you’ll meet other families just like you and find great friends willing to offer support and advice.  


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