3 Coping Tips for Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's

President Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti Davis gives her best advice for children caring for parents with dementia.

Caring for a parent

Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer's can be a traumatic time. For Patti Davis, daughter of the late President Ronald Reagan, it was devastating. When Reagan's diagnosis was made public in 1994, the Reagan family had already been dealing with the signs and symptoms for some time.

Davis, who is also the founder of the support group Beyond Alzheimer's, was at her father's side as his disease progressed through his final days. In her new book, "Floating in the Deep End: How Caregivers Can See Beyond Alzheimer's," Davis looks at how caregivers can help themselves while helping others.

Here, she provides three tips:

1. Lie

Davis says to "embrace lying" as a coping mechanism and a way to keep things on an even keel when the person may not be grounded in reality.

"Lying is your friend," Davis said. "I learned there was no point in trying to correct my father. At one point, he talked about how he took me ice skating as a child. We never did that."

Telling the truth, she notes, would have just "stirred up more tension and angst."

2. Meditate

This is so important for caregivers, Davis says.

"It reduces stress [and] anxiety [for me]," she said. "Yes, you have to carve out 20 to 30 minutes, which is really hard for caregivers to do. People [who care for] a loved one with dementia think that the patient is the important one, and they are not as important. Your physical health and mental health deserve attention, too."

3. Accept

Davis says that caring for a loved one with the mind-robbing disease changed her as a person. Many caregivers know this all too well.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, a person with Alzheimer's lives four to eight years after diagnosis, on average. But in some cases, can live as long as 20 years.

"I will never be the person I was before Alzheimer's," Davis said. "I didn't realize how profound all the lessons were until after my father died. I went back and looked at everything I had been through. It was like a baptism. It took years of his devastating illness for me to realize that my father imprinted the deepest parts of my soul, and, for that, I will be eternally grateful."


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