DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently learned that a college friend is suffering from early-onset dementia. She is only 53 years old. It is so sad for her and her family. Some friends from college want to do something for her and her family, but we are at a loss for ideas. I can only imagine that it must be tough on her husband and children. We don't want to pry. How should we go about offering support? -- Well-Intentioned, Washington, D.C.
DEAR WELL-INTENTIONED: I'm sorry about your friend's condition. Early-onset dementia is so frightening because it takes people by surprise.
You are right that her family is suffering, and they likely are constantly trying to figure out how to take care of her and of one another. When people become ill, whether from dementia or other conditions, their friends often stay away because they feel awkward and don't know what to do or say. You are doing the right thing to figure out how to be present during this tough time.
Reach out to your friend's husband and ask him if there are any specific tasks that you and your group of friends can take on. Suggestions include cooking meals, taking the children to their recreational activities and cleaning the house. If your friend's dementia is advanced, perhaps you and your friends could volunteer to sit with her while her family takes a break. By giving her husband specific ideas, you make it easier for him to respond.
Let him know how many people have expressed their desire to help. Ask him if they are in need of financial support as well. Sometimes a few dollars from a lot of people can be tremendously beneficial. And for friends who live out of town, financial contributions are a convenient way to help.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My family spent the weekend with another family, and mostly we had a good time. We did run into some friction, though, because the other family has two daughters who fight all the time. They are constantly bickering with each other and even hitting and poking. My daughter ended up in the middle of their feuds a few times, and it got ugly in terms of arguing and shoving. Both moms stepped in and got the children to apologize. But it was exhausting.
I’m wondering how we should handle this moving forward. We all like one another and want to spend time together again, but I don’t want my daughter to suffer because of these ill-behaved children. -- Protective Mom, San Francisco
DEAR PROTECTIVE MOM: Often families with two children have to deal with bickering. Children constantly vie for power in such family dynamics.
You are right to protect your child from such feuding. Teach your daughter to speak up for herself and to move out of the way when the other girls are going at it.
Additionally, speak to the other mother and express your concern about the ongoing volatility between her girls. Tell her that your daughter is feeling uncomfortable and that you want to do all you can to help calm things down. Ask for her support.
In future weekends together, you can plan activities during which all the children are not together. For example, you and your daughter could take a walk or otherwise separate yourselves for a spell.
Finally, you may want to consider shorter visits. Day visits rather than weekend sleepovers may make the experience more manageable and pleasant.