caregiverDear Sheila,
My dad is 84 and thinks his caregiver is in love with him. He calls her sweetheart and honey, is always asking for a kiss and even tries to touch her when she walks by. She’s a very lovely woman and she either tries to ignore his foolishness or kind of jokes back to him. I’m just so ashamed that he’s behaving like this and I’m afraid the caregiver will quit. He was diagnosed with dementia last year but is there any way to make him stop?
–Flirty Father’s Daughter 

Dear Daughter,
You may have a hard time believing this − but it could be a lot worse. Instead of being the daughter of “Flirty Father,” your dad’s dementia could have caused him to become mean and accusatory, full of anger at everything and everybody, or completely withdrawn. From your description, I see a happy man who probably lost his inhibitions and does not have control over his behavior. However, it’s not OK to try and touch his caregiver when she walks by. If reminding him on a regular basis to keep his hands to himself isn’t working, then you should get involved. If your father’s caregiver works for a home care agency, the supervising staff can work with the caregiver to respond to his advances professionally, but kindly. Although your father’s impulse control may not change, he may be able to be redirected. If your caregiver is uncomfortable with your father’s behavior there may be no choice but a change and you may want to consider a male caregiver.

Dementia affects behavior and personality as well as memory and sometimes the most difficult part is not the experience of the person with the disease, but the feelings of the family members who struggle to accept that their loved one has changed into someone they don’t recognize. After you’ve spoken to your dad’s caregiver and her agency and feel reassured that you have the right caregiver, please think about what you can do for yourself to help you process your feelings about your dad and the changes his dementia has brought. You might check out one of the many support groups run by your local senior center, church, hospital, and/or the Alzheimer’s Association. I think you’ll find that sharing your experience with others, who are going through the same thing, can provide some perspective and help you to remember that you, and your dad, are not alone.

photo credit: You’ll Never Walk Alone via photopin (license)