Family members of those suffering from memory-related illness gathered at the Saybrook at Haddam for a workshop on “Dementia and Family Dynamics.” The group of adult children and spouses of Saybrook at Haddam residents discussed the changing role of family members before and after diagnosis, the process of diagnosis, and the impact on relationships with relatives close by or living a distance away. The event was part of an ongoing series of support services offered by the assisted living community.

The workshop was led by Maria Tomasetti, south central regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Connecticut Chapter. The group shared frustrations and concerns about managing relationships with ill parents or spouses, as well as with other family members. Some were coping with siblings who are in denial about their parent’s health, or who are too far away to lend support. Tomasetti shared many of her own personal stories from her journey caring for both parents with Alzheimer’s. She also discussed how people with Alzheimer’s progress through each stage of the disease at different rates, sometimes staying at one stage for a very lengthy time.

It is ideal for those suffering from memory-related illnesses to be in a safe environment that also offers stimulation and engagement throughout the day. Sometimes that can be done in a home setting if they don’t wander, or at an adult day care center, or at an assisted living community with a memory care specialty.

Regardless of where a person with dementia lives, it is very beneficial for them to have interaction with those who know and love them. Sometimes people may be uncomfortable visiting family members who are suffering from memory-related illnesses but this is important for people to continue to do so.

“Your loved one may not know who you are, but they can sense you are a significant person to them,” Kathy Ryan, executive director of The Saybrook at Haddam, said. “Additionally, since you know their history, you serve as their ‘memory’ in a sense. You can talk with them in a loving way about things that happened long ago, or about people they knew in the past. By doing this, you are connecting with them in the moment, validating who they are, and reinforcing their dignity.”

Ryan added that while families focus so much on planning for the care of their loved ones during each stage of their illness, they can still enjoy time with them. “The difference is, now you are creating happy moments for your loved one, not happy memories,” she said.

She reminds people that life with dementia is a challenging one, but does not have to mean the end of a relationship with a loved one. Ryan urges families dealing with this illness to seek out educational events, talk to others, and connect with family members as much as possible.

“In this sad illness, many beautiful things still happen,” Ryan said. “It is healthier and can be mutually beneficial when families work together through this sometimes difficult journey.”