[5 MIN READ]
In this article:
November is both Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month.
Learn about Loretta, who cared for her mother with dementia for 16 years.
Providence offers both in-person and online resources for people struggling with dementia and their caregivers.
How Alzheimer's disease can change the family dynamic
There are an estimated 5.7 million Americans diagnosed with dementia. That sounds like a lot of people — and it is — but there are even more people caring for them. About 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Each of these people bears the responsibility of looking after the well-being of someone they love, while also watching that person slip further and further away.
Loretta became a caregiver for her mother, Doris Woodward, when Doris was diagnosed with early-stage dementia at the age of 77 in 2006. She called it “becoming my mom’s mom.”
“There was a role reversal, and my mom and I both recognized it,” said Loretta. “I knew my mother wouldn’t be going to any appointments without me. The only thing I was going to demand for her is that she be respected and not talk about her like she’s not right here in the room with us. And, I was going to be her greatest advocate.”
While Loretta knew very little about Alzheimer’s, she vowed to learn as much as she could for both her mother and herself. “That day, the only promise I knew I could keep was that we’re going to have joy every day, no matter what, even on the worst possible days,” said Loretta. “I knew very little about dementia at that time, but I knew the most important thing was we were going to do it together, and we were going to have joy every day.”
At the same time as she was caring for her mother, Loretta was also working full time in her corporate security job. At the beginning of the disease, Doris didn’t have major troubles until late in the day. As it progressed, however, Doris’s symptoms set in earlier and earlier. Eventually, Loretta was going to work very early in the morning so she could be home by 2 to care for her mother.
Loretta’s husband, Tim, was available to help with the caregiving until 2016, when he died suddenly. Loretta and Doris spent almost six years living without him until Doris died in 2022 at the age of 92.
Though it was painful and difficult for Loretta to care for her mother as she declined, she has been able to find some good through it all. In 2014, she wrote a book called “Being My Mom’s Mom” to help her cover some of the expenses incurred through Doris’s illness. Since then, she has written more books, given interviews and spoken to groups — all to help other people benefit from the lessons she learned.
She gives her listeners ideas for how they can get support from others to endure the rough times. “When Tim died,” she said, “my church had me put together a list of the things Tim would do for my mother. Each person took one of those things. People will say ‘call if you need help’ but then you never hear from them again. I learned that if you have a list of things, people are more likely to help. You can ask someone, ‘Can you take Dad to the barbershop next Tuesday at 2?’ They will tell you yes or no. If they can’t, you go on to the next person. This helps you create a village.”
It's important, she said, to keep an active list of all the people who are in your “village.” That way, you’ll feel a little less overwhelmed when you think you can’t handle any more stress.
Providence can help
If you are a caregiver for someone who has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, Providence can help. Our Kadlec Neurological Resource Center in Richland, Washington, is a comprehensive resource for both those who are suffering from dementia, and those who are caring for them.
If you’re local, you can take advantage of the center’s support groups and classes and events. However, even if you live far away, you can still find help on the center’s website. Our library and resources offer an extensive array of reading materials and videos that can give you the support you need.
Remember that you’re not alone — whether you suffer from dementia yourself or are caring someone who does. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your own village.
Find a doctor
If you’re looking for a Providence primary care provider or a neurologist, you can search for one who’s right for you in our provider directory.
Download the Providence App
We’re with you, wherever you are. Make the Providence app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.
About the AuthorMore Content by Providence Health Team