Coming to terms with my mother’s dementia: a daughter’s story

Coming to terms with my mother’s dementia: a daughter’s story

Michelle is the loving daughter of Lois, who lives with dementia. Lois lives in Water Gardens, one of Heritage Care’s residential care homes in Sydenham, in North-West Melbourne. Michelle has decided to share her personal journey with dementia to help other families overcome the guilt of placing a loved one into residential aged care. These are her words.

My mother Lois lived a hard life. She was a single parent and her sole focus was keeping a roof over our heads and having food on the table.

Mum was naturally an anxious person and worried about everything and I have always wondered if this personality trait contributed to her dementia?

Showing affection and verbally expressing her feelings never happened. In fact, I cannot remember a time in my childhood that Mum ever told me she loved me and vice versa.

I obviously emulated my Mum’s behaviour and was too scared to reveal my feelings. And yet, now, with Mum in her pleasantly delusional life, we have a warm, loving and affectionate relationship.

While the disease robs us of our parents, if you allow yourself to see their life through a different lens—it can bring unexpected and unconventional joy.

I clearly remember the day when I built the courage to test Mum’s reaction by telling her ‘I love you’ and was overwhelmingly surprised and delighted to hear the words ‘and I love you’, returned instantly.

That was a major turning point in our relationship. I now greet mum with a kiss on the forehead and we lovingly display our affection with hugs and verbal expressions. In some ways, dementia has brought us closer together.

However, caring for a parent with dementia comes with its challenges. If there was one piece of advice I could give to someone caring for a loved one living with early-onset dementia, it is to organise your Power of Attorney, right away, before they decline.

Prior to Mum officially diagnosed with dementia, my sister Kerrie and I endured traumatic hospitalisation experiences that screamed something was wrong with Mum and yet the tests didn’t point to dementia.

With legalities in order and the inability for Mum to return home, Kerrie and I were in a solid care position to managing her financial and care needs including finding a suitable residential aged care home.

The guilt of placing a loved one into a residential aged care home hits really hard.

Given the option, this is a decision you’d never make. Even while you know that you’re making the right decision, you can’t help but feel guilty about it. Don’t let your stubbornness stop you from considering residential aged care.

It may sound like the right thing in keeping them at home, but it may have serious consequences on your parent and that may lead to a lifetime of shame and remorse.

My sister and I selected Water Gardens aged care home for several reasons. Firstly, it was close to my sister’s home so one of us could easily and frequently visit. That was of key importance. Secondly, the location was perfect to take Mum on outings.

Situated minutes from Watergardens Shopping Centre, we enjoyed taking Mum clothes shopping, to the cinema or out for lunch. And the final reason was honestly due to Carina, Water Gardens’ Residence Manager and the way she welcomed Kerrie on the day of the tour.

Carina greeted Kerrie as if she had known her forever. Kerrie felt an immediate connection and Carina’s smile dissolved her anxieties and fears.

For me, a smiling person makes a world of difference. I love to read a face and Carina’s warmth helped make the transition so much easier.  With so much to learn and understand when moving a loved one into aged care, Carina made it all seamless.

Caregiving can be brutal. But humour is one of the characteristics that I now use to feel joy and that will often turn a sad experience into a happy one.

My mother had a tremendous sense of humour and wit. As dementia steals her cognitive ability, I rely on banter and provoking conversations to keep that side of her personality shining.

It is how I engage and stay connected with her. It’s my coping mechanism. They say laughter is the best medicine. Her smile and laughter certainly does wonders for my soul, that’s for sure.

It takes work to let the anger and sadness go and turn your mind into a happy spot. I have never truly accepted that mum has dementia.

Rather I have learned to live with it. It is what it is and she doesn’t live in the real world anymore. I have let it go and found humour to allow myself to laugh out loud.

The care team at Water Gardens are fantastic. They are sensitive, kind, patient and respectful. They understand that the person they are caring for today is not the same person before and there’s no judgement.

The staff now fulfill the role as professional carers, enabling me to resume my relationship as a daughter. And I’m loving it.

If you’re feeling guilty over putting your parent in a residential aged care home, know that you’re not alone. Don’t let the burden of dementia caregiving make you become resentful.

Ask for help and arrange professional care when your gut is telling you things are not right. Recognise all that you have taken on and embrace the next chapter of care.

Get to know the aged care system, talk with the staff, understand what residential aged care can provide.

Your loved one can greatly benefit and live a life of happiness and joy when family form a partnership of care with providers.

If you need any help with transitioning a loved one into aged care, call one of our friendly Client Services team members for expert support.

Click here to view our contact list.

Dementia Support Available at Heritage Care Homes

Dementia-Friendly Community

All Heritage Care homes provide a dementia-friendly community where people living with low level dementia care needs are understood, respected and supported. In a dementia-friendly community, our staff are trained and understand dementia care allowing relationships with residents to be formed and interests identified so that people with dementia can continue to live in the way they want to and in the community they choose.

Memory Support Units

A number of our homes have dedicated Memory Support Units with their own gardens and courtyards to provide a safe and secure environment for people living with high dementia care needs.  They include:

  • Heritage Gardens – Bayswater North, VIC
  • Water Gardens – Sydenham, VIC
  • Heritage Illawong – Illawong, NSW
  • Heritage Queanbeyan – Queanbeyan, NSW

To learn more on one of the above homes, click on the top header “Find An Aged Care Home” to select your preferred home.

Click here to be taken to Dementia Australia’s website for a fantastic range of dementia resources.