When I was growing up, I saw my parents as invincible adults who worked day and night to protect me, care for me, and who gave me their unconditional love. All through my life, they stood by me and supported me through every stage of growth.

Now as an adult, I’m busy with my career and being a parent myself.

If you’re like me, you might be surprised when you notice that your parents, who you always saw as young, strong, and energetic, are growing old. Their hair is gray, they’re developing wrinkles, and they’re becoming more vulnerable to disease.

What makes it harder is when a parent who once stood by you through thick and thin starts to forget thingseven important things, like your name. What makes it harder is when you can see that they’re having a hard time getting everyday things done.

What makes it even harder is when they develop dementia.

My mom has early onset-dementia.

So for me, the saying rings true: “Love your parents. We are so busy growing up that we often forget that they’re growing old.”

I’ve now grown into a stage of adulthood where I am so caught up in my personal and professional commitments that I often have little time to spend with my parents.

But while I make an effort to send flowers, cakes, and small gifts on their birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions, I find that it’s even more vital to spend quality time with them. Gifts and flowers are nice, but they aren’t enough. I find that a smile, a hug, and a chat about good old times is much more important than material presents.

The impact of dementia

It’s generally believed that cognition starts to deteriorate only once a person reaches “old age.” It’s true that a large number of dementia cases occur in people over 65, but conditions such as dementia aren’t limited to old age. In some cases, people as young as 30 can develop rare forms of the condition.

According to the World Health Organization, about 47 million people around the globe have dementia, and the numbers are expected to increase to 75 million by 2030.

The risk of its occurrence cannot be stressed enough. And although there is no known cure for dementia, there are ways that we can improve quality of life for people who live with it.

Social and mental interaction

One thing that can help is indulging our loved ones in activities that engage them socially and mentally.

A study published in Science Daily revealed that loneliness in individuals over 60 plays a major role in triggering distress. Loneliness also impairs quality of life by causing functional decline, and it may even lead to early death. Research also indicates that social interactions can have a degree of protective effect on the brain against dementia.

Ways to increase social interaction

My mom was there when I needed her the most. Now it’s time for me to return the favour. Here’s what I’ve tried to help brighten her life, even when I’m so tied up with my own.
  • Taking her out to dinner
  • Taking her out for charity drives
  • Encouraging her to take part in voluntary services
  • Going for walks
  • Reading books together
  • Doing crosswords
  • Going for golf games
Sometimes I keep it as simple as chatting over a cup of coffee!

There are many more ways you can make your parents feel special. For instance, my parents threw a princess-themed birthday party for me when I was four years old. Why not follow the example and throw a small barbeque for your parents, inviting their friends and relatives next Mother’s Day or Father’s Day?

You can also arrange a family reunion once in a while, where all of you get a chance to share old family memories with each other. Do what I do and take lots of pictures and share them with your loved one right away. Or, if it works better to show them family pictures from the past, go over those and reminisce about old times.

I also find that it helps to take advice from my parents and to ask for their help once in a while in order to make them feel important and an integral part of my life.

These methods not only help rid both my parents of loneliness. They also give us all lots of special time together, which strengthens our bond.

I hope these ideas help you make your parents happy—and you too, regardless of age, and in any state of health. Start today and spend time with them like there’s no tomorrow! It’s so important to make our care for our loved ones the best it can be.

erica-silva-2.jpegErica Silva is a mom of two, and a caregiver for her own mom, who lives with dementia. Currently, Erica writes for the BrainTest team. To reach her, connect on Twitter.