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Healthy ways kids can cope with a parent's illness

Stefania Silvestri is the author of the memoir Beside The Mountain: Finding Strength and Courage Through My Father’s Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She received her BA in English from the University of Missouri, Columbia and her MFA in...

learning How to cope

I was only 14 when my father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and I was thrown into the role of caretaker. It wasn't easy and I want to help other young people learn how to cope when a parent becomes ill. Here's what I learned and want to pass on to other young caregivers.
Tips for young caregivers
Tween daughter and father

Let your feelings out — the right way

Too often when faced with illness, our first reaction is to keep our pain hidden. When my dad was sick, I leaned on vices to give me what I thought was strength. What I found was that they only made the pain worse. The best way to come to terms with illness is to talk about it. Even avenues of support through online resources like Facebook groups or blogs can help make you realize you aren’t alone.

Natural ways to feel better >>

When talking isn’t enough, ask for help

Sometimes friends and family can only offer so much. Sometimes you need something more to help you. I depended on my psychologist and medicine during my darkest times to help me control my fears and anxieties that only worsened alongside my father’s illness. But always remember that “one size doesn’t fit all” — sometimes it will take a few tries to finally find the right therapist for you.

Is group therapy for you? >>

Treasure the good moments, however small or few they may be

Now is the time to treasure your parent’s spirit while you still can. When you find an open window — a moment when your mother isn’t troubled or your father may be lucid — sit with her, hold his hand. Had I known my time with him was so fleeting I would have tried harder to be with him as I had before he had developed his dementia. I would have played that extra game of foosball. I would’ve done anything just to see him smile.

Let go of anger

Anger was the easiest feeling to hang on to when my father was sick. I held on to anger until I finally learned how truly sick my father was and then I started letting it go. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Each of us is given a life — it might be unfair and it might not be what you thought it would be — but it’s all we have. Let love in, let it flourish and you’ll find living a bit easier in the end.

Simple steps to forgive yourself and others >>

Don’t forget yourself

In the midst of letting your feelings out and seeking help, you may find yourself running out of steam. After you’ve realized what you should do, how do you find the strength to do it? More often than not, it’s as easy as going outside for a walk. Exercise is truly the most natural push you’ll find. My sister never stopped repeating to me over and again the importance of keeping my body active. And she was right. Don’t let your sadness transform into apathy and lethargy. Take control of your life and you’ll have the inner power to keep going.

Keep your energy up all day >>

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