It is impossible to overstate the importance of having that sit-down, dreaded conversation about end-of-life choices. This is usually something we all want to put off, but when it comes to dealing with a loved one with dementia, time is limited.
The truth of the matter is that this conversation will benefit all parties involved: patient, caregiver and other family members.
Let's begin by looking at its effect on caregivers. By knowing that we are carrying out our loved ones' final wishes, a huge weight is being lifted during an extremely difficult time.
Imagine the patient's relief when we reassure them that the final length of their journey will be carried out as they wish. It's a blessing to all concerned.
As for the patient, the fact that this conversation has taken place will alleviate a tremendous amount of stress. Maintaining as stress-free an environment as possible is a high priority. I have noticed that doctors who are familiar with Alzheimer's disease and dementia strongly encourage caregivers and patients alike to remain as stress-free as possible.
You deserve to have your wishes heard. If it's your wish let your family know that if you become too much of a burden on them, it's OK to place you in a nursing facility. Having this subject cleared up will save your family from possible infighting and making wrong decisions. If you want to remain at home till the end, this needs to be stated as well.
Do you want your final resting place to be in your hometown or somewhere else? Are you a veteran? Is it your desire to have military honors and your remains interred in a National Veteran's Cemetery?
There are so many conversations that need to take place. For instance, what about advance directives? And who would you want to make medical and financial decisions for you in the event you are unable? What about your driving privileges? Lay everything out on the table.
If you do not have family, you should be telling this to a dear friend and/or an elder law attorney.
If you are the one with dementia, there is going to come a time when you are not going to be able to make you own decisions. Ironically, one of the symptoms of dementia is poor decision making.
I'm not trying to rush anyone into this. I am well aware that these are profoundly important decisions. Take some time to think about it, but please realize that with dementia, procrastination is something to avoid. When these important conversations are over, I believe you will experience some inner peace.
Just because someone has dementia doesn't mean he or she doesn't still have a lot of life to live. Concentrate on that.
For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newly released book "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," and his other books "While I Still Can" and the expanded edition of "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness," can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.