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Caring for dad: when is enough enough?


Question: When do I know if I can't do this anymore—I mean caring for my dad. He has had dementia since April of last year. He gets mad, starts to walk out the door, and thinks we're all out to harm him. Please help.

Dr. Amy: One day, there may well come a time when your father needs full time care in a professional facility. It’s hard to know from your letter whether that time has come, so let me offer you the following thoughts. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be amazingly difficult at times. It sounds like you are having a tough time with your father. Do you have any help at all? Caregiving need not be an all or nothing venture. It’s hard to do everything yourself with no help.

An important goal is to avoid feeling completely overwhelmed. Reaching out both for emotional and task support can help. There are a number of resources you can turn to. One of the best is a geriatric care manager. In addition to their knowledge of health, psychology, and human development, they have an excellent understanding of public and private resources—as well as funding sources. In a single consultation you will have a lot of answers. If a geriatric care manager is too expensive, I suggest you call an adult day care in your area. You should also call a home care provider—they are excellent at assessing your needs and what they can do for you. In addition to providing company, a homecare service can also prepare meals, take care of light housekeeping and run errands.

I also encourage you to check out This is an excellent resource developed by Home Instead. It contains a wealth of information and ideas. The Alzheimer’s Association also has great resources related to caregiver stress.

At the same time, it may be time for your father to go back to the doctor to make sure that everything that can be done is being done. Since dementia is a progressive illness, it’s important to establish a partnership with your father, family, friends, and healthcare system so that his needs—and yours—are well managed. Is he taking medication? How is his diet and fluid intake? These play a critical role in managing this disease and can make a big difference in his mood.

I know I have not provided you with a simple yes or no answer. I encourage you to reach out for support in your area, to see what is possible, talk to the doctor, and take it from there. I wish you strength and peace on your journey.


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