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Make the Holiday Season Stress Free

Tips for Celebrating the Holidays with the Person with Dementia

The Joy of the Holidays

Whether you grew up Jewish, like myself, Christian or Muslim, we all have one thing in common – family get-togethers during the holidays. Usually these get-togethers involve a lot of food and, at times, gift exchanges. But no matter what the holiday or the tradition is, the focal point is always on the ‘get-together’ part. This once or twice-a-year event is when family members, who may rarely see one another, put aside all family dynamics and come together to celebrate holiday traditions. The bigger the family, the bigger the event: a big table, kids running around, multiple loud conversations or, as it may feel to the person who lives with dementia,

“A lot of people I don’t know who say a lot of things I don’t understand”.

If you have a loved one who lives with dementia, especially if they still live at home with you or with another family member (spouse, adult child), I’m sure the dilemma every holiday is not new to you: Should I bring my mom to Rosh Hashanah dinner?, How can I help my husband enjoy himself at the Christmas dinner party?

When you have a loved one who lives with dementia, holidays can bring up many emotions and memories of times gone by: when grandma cooked our favorite food during Eid al-Fitr,  when grandpa lead the Passover Sadder, when mom made those beautiful stockings.  But while everyone else may enjoy the social event, grandma may become anxious and restless looking around the unfamiliar room full of unfamiliar faces.

Five Tips to Help the Person with Dementia Enjoy the Holiday Season
When the Person Lives at Home

1.Communicate with the family

You know your loved one best, but not everyone in the extended family may be aware that they have dementia or to what extent.

An email sent to everyone with the important information about your loved one can help prevent many potentially stressful situations. Important information to share may be:

  • How best to connect with the person with dementia: call them by their name, introduce yourself by name and your relationship to them (if you sense you look unfamiliar to them) and offer a warm hug.
  • How to have a conversation: don’t ask questions that start with “do you remember…?”. instead tell the person something about you or your life or make a nice comment about the person.
  • Keep the person involved: everyone should take turns spending a few minutes with the person to make sure they are included.
  • Keep it short and sweet: don’t overwhelm the person with too much information or too much commotion.
  • If a gift exchanged is planned: share gift ideas for that person.

2.Celebrate early in the day

As many older people get tired and sleepy later in the day, the person with dementia may get more confused and/or anxious in the late afternoon or early evening hours, especially as it gets darker. Start the celebration earlier in the day when there is still light outside.

3.Keep it small, simple and familiar

A familiar environment – familiar faces, familiar dishes, familiar smells – will make the event easier to handle. Invite a small group of close family members and have the celebration in the same house where the person lives to keep it familiar. Cook the same traditional dishes that you cook every year.
Keeping it the same as in the past will decrease the sense of confusion that is overwhelming for the person with dementia.

A small group of family member will help decrease feeling overwhelmed or anxious during the holidays

 

4. Attend to the important needs

Food and going to the bathroom are the most important things that need attention.
Make sure the person goes to the bathroom before everyone arrives and before leaving the event. Arrange to have the person sit where it is easy to get up from the table and go to the bathroom. Escort the person to the bathroom every two hours.
Arrange for a plate of food that is easy to self-feed: cutting anything that needs to be cut, avoiding food that may be challenging to eat with a fork, such as peas or rice (or provide a spoon) or that can spill, such as soup (or put it in a cup and let it cool a little).
If you need to arrange for an adult bib to avoid staining clothes, get one that is made from a festive holiday fabric (can easily get those online).

5. Be prepared to change your plans

If the person who lives with dementia gets restless or anxious earlier than expected, be prepared to either leave early if the celebration is not in their home, or to move them to the bedroom or another quiet room.

The Spirit of the Holiday is Everywhere

Be Attentive

Just because your loved one may live in a memory care facility, it doesn’t mean they cannot (or should not) enjoy the holiday with family. However, as their dementia progresses, you will need to be attentive to their ability to participate and enjoy the family get-together. They may be at a stage where bringing them to the family event, while using the above tips, will allow them to enjoy the celebration with everyone. But time may come when leaving the memory care community, their now familiar environment, will overwhelm them to the extent that they won’t be able to enjoy the celebration. Furthermore, it may mean that you’ll need to give them your full attention to the point that it will affect your ability to enjoy it, too. When this is the case, you can still enjoy the festivity of the holiday, just in a different way.

Living with memory loss doesn’t mean you lose your holiday spirit

 

Three Tips to Help the Person with Dementia Enjoy the Holiday Season
When the Person Lives in a Memory Care Community

1.Bring the spirit of the holiday to their home

Decorate their room with traditional holiday decorations that are familiar to them. Make it a joint activity, even if all they do is sit and watch you hanging the decorations around their room.

2.Keep the gift giving tradition

Help them think of gifts for the grandkids and wrap them together. Arrange for the grandkids to come for a visit and have them open gifts together. If the grandkids live far away, ask their parents to take pictures of them opening the gifts and share with the grandparent or, if possible, arrange for live video chat.

3.Take part in their celebration

The memory care community will have their own celebration around the holidays. Arrange for the closest family members to attend that celebration, whether it is a special dinner or holiday music sing-along.

Make this holiday season meaningful and enriching for both you and your loved one who lives with dementia. Keep the family tradition and help everyone feel part of the family.

 

Ronit Cohen is Senior Living Advisor and owner of A Home to Fit You.  Ronit is passionate about educating families on the best ways to support a loved one by advocating for seniors to identify their care needs and personal wishes while navigating the journey to find their best living solution as well as support her clients through the transition and beyond.

Making Your Home Safe for Loved Ones With Alzheimer’s


If you are becoming the caregiver of a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, you know you need to make some changes. One of the first places you’ll need to start is your home. Use these helpful tips to help make your home safer and more secure for your loved one.

Tackle These Projects First

Safety should be any caretakers primary concern. There are some simple ways you can help your loved one stay safe in your home. Install some grab bars in slippery spots, like bathrooms and showers. Then, walk through your home and keep an eye out for dangerous ledges or tripping hazards. Use labels and large switches around the home, and make sure your home security system and locks are updated to prevent your loved one from wandering off. Also, use a measuring tape to help ensure there’s enough space to accommodate wheelchairs if necessary.

Be Mindful of Your Budget

Caring for a loved one can mean extra expenses. Be sure your home projects are completed in a way that won’t throw your finances off track. Look for DIY projects that you can complete on your own. When you need a handyman or contractor, use online tools to compare prices and reviews. It’s wise to look into grant opportunities as well. There are some funding options for homeowners looking to improve accessibility in their homes. Look into these resources and use them to keep yourself out of debt.

Consider Hiring Help

One of the most effective tools in caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is people. In-home care and therapy are often needed for patients as they progress with their condition. Take this into consideration when planning out care. To make your life a little easier, you may also want to consider hiring people to help with household upkeep as well. Use a dog-walker to take care of pets or find someone who can keep up with the cleaning. You may even be able to have groceries and supplies delivered to avoid leaving your loved one alone.

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s is never easy. You need to make sure you are prepared for this new role and that your home is as well. With a few simple steps, you can keep your loved one protected and give yourself some peace of mind.

Author: June is the co-creator of Rise Up for Caregivers, which offers support for family members and friends who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is author of the upcoming book, The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers.

Senior Citizens Day

Do you think about getting old? All of us do. Do you think about what you are going to do when you retire? Me too. Planning is essential as we age, so we know that we are financially, physically, and mentally ready to retire and enjoy the rest of our days doing what we enjoy.

August 21st is National Senior Citizens Day in the United States. Take this weekend to celebrate the wisdom and achievements the seniors in your life have contributed to you personally, or to the community you belong to. Go out of your way to do one thing for a loved one, or a stranger, to give them thanks. It will go a long way! President Ronald Reagan originally created National Senior Citizens Day in 1988, “Older citizens are reinforcing their historical roles as leaders and as links with our patrimony and sense of purpose as individuals and as a Nation.” He sure is right!

If you are a senior citizen yourself, take advantage of special promotions in your area, especially at restaurants or the movie theater. Here are five ways to celebrate Senior Citizens Day:

1. Take advantage of senior discounts.
2. Volunteer at an assisted living community.
3. Celebrate your achievements and spend time alone.
4. Start a family history project.
5. Practice random acts of kindness.

seniors

Brain Stimulation

Sensory exercises for the brain are essential for the aging self. Especially when a person suffers from memory loss, continuing sensory and brain activities to stimulate parts of the brain that need the attention is essential. Moreover, sitting and watching a movie will not suffice in exercising the senses enough. Five types of simulations stem from our five senses: Sight (visual), hearing (auditory), smell (olfactory), taste (gustatory), and touch (tactile) simulation.

In addition to the five senses, our nervous system also gathers and stores information providing sensory feedback to the brain. Vestibular stimulation provides us with balance, providing the brain with feedback that keeps us moving without falling over. Proprioceptive stimulation is sensory feedback that informs us how parts of the body are moving and how they are moving. Keeping the muscles and body engaged will take strength of the patient and caregiver to promote movement outside of their daily space.
An example of a great sensory exercise is taking a stroll through the forest as the fall leaves are changing. Reason being, it will include visual, auditory, olfactory, and proprioceptive stimulation all at the same time. Adding fresh air and a walk in the park will provide a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s the comprehensive sensory exercise they need. Including natural light as a daily activity will only boost stimulation while indoors. Creating stained glass trinkets in the window may provide mere satisfaction for the patient.  At New Horizons In-Home Care, our caregivers would love to take that extra mile and get outside with your loved one.

The Relationship Between Stress and Dementia

There is new research on the relationship of stress and dementia which was published in the January issue of Current Opinion of Psychiatry. Rothman Research Institute at Baycres Health Sciences recently conducted a study that found people who experienced chronic stress; including, anxiety, fear and stress were more precursors to dementia. When these psychiatric issues are only occasional and temporary, for example before an exam, they are not harmful. However, when these short-term reactions become chronic (long-term) they can have an impact on one’s health.

Chronic stress can cause a serious impact on your immune and cardiovascular system. Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with increased risk of neuropsychiatric diseases, including depression and dementia. Current research has emphasized interventions such as exercise, mindfulness and cognitive behavior therapy will often help in reducing this type of stress.

There are numerous ways a person can get the right kind of exercise.  A person does not need to become a marathon runner, or super weight trainer to get adequate exercise for their brain health. Some of the best types of exercise is walking and swimming. You do not need to know how to swim as many local gyms have water aerobics where the person who does not swim is supported by a belt that keeps the person afloat. If a person is not able to walk there are numerous exercises one can do from a chair or bed. Check with your local adult activity center to find the right exercise class for you.Stress and depression