Boundary setting: The mother-in-law suite

Stephanie: My husband and I were ready to downsize, but now we’re buying a bigger home because my parents will be moving in. With Mom’s dementia diagnosis, my dad and siblings agree that aging at home is the best option. But NOT everyone agrees on what aging in place looks like.

New Street Compass: For family caregivers, their relationship to the person with dementia will be forever changing and forever changed by dementia. The cadences that coordinated your movement together for decades in the dance of your relationship have become unreliable, and you no longer move with the same coordinated fluidity. This is true for client Stephanie and her mother, certainly. But dementia may also change the relationship with her siblings.

Although it may be hard to break the old patterns, they often don’t work anymore. Especially with a major shift in the dynamic, such as a parent or sibling move-in. The physical, mental, emotional, and financial toll of caregiving can be curbed, at least to an extent, by boundary setting.

As Stephanie vented about her situation, I heard three recurring themes – permission, repay, and endure. With one simple question (“What is this costing you?”) I helped her realize the need for boundary setting, for her emotional and physical self-care. Stephanie is learning that she must recognize what she needs and make it possible. “Because I said so” used to signal her kids that she was in charge of their safety and well-being. Now it is her signal to herself that she is in charge of her self-care.

Primary caregivers who establish and maintain boundaries will go a long way toward protecting their own well-being and ability to provide quality care.

Learn more about dementia caregiver self-care, as well as skills and techniques to support your caregiving, from my new book, The Dementia Field Guide.