During my mom’s last years as she struggled with dementia, she had a wonderful caregiver named Pat. Pat was a gem, and our first experience with people in the caregiving profession. She was warm, kind, and always taking great interest in my mother’s well-being. She had a beautiful smile.
I was taken aback, however, when I’d visit and Pat would ask my mom to sweep the floor. After all, doing the light housekeeping was part of Pat’s job description. I was annoyed and told my mom to sit down… she did not have to do the sweeping. Since she had long since relinquished most decisions to me, my mother obediently put the broom down. But something seemed wrong. Then I realized that she wanted to sweep! She actually liked doing the sweeping. It gave her exercise. It was a job she could do all on her own. It was a clearly defined, simple task where my mom could see the results of her work. It gave her a sense of purpose.
Wow! What a realization. It dawned on me that there were so many things I could have been doing better with my mom. Rather than “taking over” and making all those decisions for her, maybe I could have included her more in the process. Rather that treating her “like a queen” who did not have to move a finger, maybe there were things I should ask her to do. I think we did a good job caring for her, but there are many things I could have done better.
The single biggest issue we see with our clients is that our older loved ones feel marginalized. They used to have important positions, they used to run the household, they used to be in charge of many things and everyday made decisions that affected themselves and others. As they get older, sons and daughters start taking more and more responsibility, taking all this away until mom and dad are being treated like children. That’s what happened between my mom and me. Out of my desire to “take over” and help her, I also marginalized her.
For sure, it’s a balancing act. There are some things your mom cannot do anymore. And once in awhile, it’s nice to be waited on. But this holiday season, if you’re spending time with an elder loved one, try thinking of how they can help. How they can make a contribution. Ask them to set the table. Ask them to wrap presents. Ask them to load the dishwasher. Ask them to sweep the floor.
About the Author:
Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.
They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist. In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.
Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.
Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones. He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio. He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.