By Matt Kelly
Earlier this month, Lynn Bomar Harless, mother of acclaimed pop music star, Justin Timberlake, went on the Today Show to discuss her efforts and struggles in dealing with her husband’s dementia. Paul Harless, stepfather to Justin and husband of Lynn for more than 30 years, was diagnosed with dementia back in 2016.
Cleveland Clinic defines dementia as the “general term that represents a group of diseases and illnesses that affect your thinking, memory, reasoning, personality, mood and behavior”. Dementia is not a specific disease, rather, a “description of the state of a person’s mental function”.
On the Today segment back in early December, Lynn opened up about her daily life when looking after her ill husband. She explained that, “He knows everything that’s going on around him. He just doesn’t speak anymore very often.” She describes the struggles within him and around him saying that people “keep their distance, and it makes the loneliness so dark and if possible, even more sad.”
Communication skills may be hindered with dementia, as Lynn had expressed about her husband. This is because people may have a hard time remembering things like certain words or ideas/concepts that may otherwise frequently come up in a typical conversation. Here are some tips the HHS give for these struggles:
- Speak calmly and show understanding of what the person is saying/trying to say
- Try to initiate and hold two-way conversations for as long as possible
- Respect their personal space
Paul’s not even remotely alone in this condition as the Cleveland Clinic estimates that about 50% of people age 85 and older have dementia. It’s a really difficult illness to suffer from, and it can take its toll on those who look after people who have it, like Lynn, who says, “You take all the little moments that you can get.” Luckily, caregivers have resources that are accessible to them that can help.
In addition to caring for their loved ones, HHS reminds caregivers to be sure to take care of themselves, as well. Some of the tips they provide include:
- Ask for help and/or join support groups with other caregivers
- Maintain your own hobbies and spend time with friends
- Take breaks during the day
The pain and sadness that caregivers feel may not go away, but hearing how others are coping through these difficult times, can help.