Bethlehem Press

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Family Project: Alzheimer’s

Thursday, November 16, 2017 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

Q. My elderly mother, who has Alzheimer’s, lives with me and my family. We have a teenage son, and I am worried about how this is affecting him. I spend so much time taking care of my mother that I fear I am losing touch with him and what’s going on in his life. How can I create a sense of balance in my family?

It would be good to know how severe is the grandmother’s Alzheimer’s. Is she entirely dependent or does she have some interaction?

Panelist Denise Continenza asked. “Assuming her condition is moderate this really could be a win-win for the whole family and a point of growth for the teenage son.”

Continenza suggested that the mother try to engage her son in the care of the grandmother by having him drive her places or talking about a project he has done for school or listening to music together. “He doesn’t have to be with her all the time, but keep them connected because there is so much value in family traditions and connections.”

If the grandmother’s condition is so serious that the mother is overwhelmed with care-giving, Continenza said the mother also needs to take care of herself. She recommended that the mother seek out resources for herself, such as the AARP Care-giving Resource Center online at, or local caregiver resource guides and adult daycare services.

Panelist Mike Daniels said the first step should be for the mother to create opportunities to have regular conversations with her son about life and what he thinks about the situation, what he is willing to do to get involved, as well as to listen to the teenager about his experiences and what he needs from the parent.

One of the resources might be the son, Daniels also agreed. People like to feel that they are of value. He might be ready to accept some adult responsibility to help mom out.

“This is a perfect example of a ‘teachable moment,’” panelist Joanne Nigito-Raftas explained. “It provides an opportunity to interact and communicate better.” However, if the parent is saying she is spending so much time taking care of her mother, she is also saying she is losing touch with herself in her own life. Nigito-Raftas agreed that she would recommend right away to see what services were available to give the parent a break so she could spend more time with her son. She noted that some insurance policies provide funding for this kind of respite care.

There is a point in time, however, when it won’t matter if the Alzheimer’s patient is being cared for at home or in a nursing home, according to Nigito-Raftas, because the patient won’t know the difference. The time will come when the care-giver will have to make the decision to get the parent into a facility.

A suggested resource is the Information and Referral Hotline: 610-782-3200.

Wanda Mercado-Arroyo said in the Latino culture it is unacceptable to take loved ones out of the home. “We get families together and we take turns helping out.”

Daniels said that before a family makes a decision to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s at home, it needs to find out what resources are available, find out what might happen and talk about at what point the family will have to say, “We have to make that call. Our loved one can’t live here anymore.”

This week’s team of parenting experts and guest panelists are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; Joanne Nigito-Raftas, Registered Play Therapist; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS; and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor.

Have a question? Email: The Family Project weekly column is a collaborative effort between the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.