Every year at this time my home is transformed into a warm and cozy Holiday Haven. The furniture is moved to accommodate the Christmas tree. Festive centerpieces and bowls of candy and nuts are added to every table. There are blinking lights, candles and a fire in the fireplace to set the house a glow. Looks wonderful to me….. But to someone Living with Alzheimers or Dementia, it could be very unsettling. If we reside with someone Living with Alzhemeirs…How can we minimize their stress? Which will undoubtingly minimize yours.
First and foremost, plan ahead. You know your loved one better than anyone else. Second, use common sense. Don’t plan a six-course meal for ten people, knowing your loved one is unable to sit for an extended length of time without getting agitated. Thirdly, be flexible. Any Holiday festivity set in stone is no fun anyway. Take your cues from your loved one.
Set your loved one up for success by making a few adjustments to your Holiday grandeur. Remember, the Christmas tree may get knocked down or ornaments may be pulled from its branches. So, shatterproof ornaments usually work the best. Also, keep any heirlooms in places they can be seen but not touched. Don’t forget all the edible items we use as tree ornaments. The strings of popcorn and cranberries, candy canes and cookie dough ornaments are all very tempting. Depending on the “stage” of Alzheimer’s your loved one is currently in, you might want to skip the tree altogether.
There are some other unedible and potentially harmful items you need to keep in mind….. Holiday plants. At some stages of Dementia and Alzheimer’s, items in the hand, go straight to the mouth, this can be very concerning. A few plants that come to mind are poinsettias, mistletoe, holly berries, yew, the Christmas Rose, Jerusalem Cherry, and Amaryllis. All vary in toxicity depending on plant and amount consumed. If in doubt, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222
Now on to one of my favorite Holiday traditions….. Food, food and more food. For starters, maybe that communal bowl of candy or nuts might need to be put out of reach before it all disappears. Back to that six-course meal. Besides the normal finger food appetizers, try modifying your recipes to finger food status. Stuffing in a square pan and cut into bitesize pieces would be great. How about potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces instead of mashed? You and I both know anything wrapped in bacon or puff pastry is scrumptious and easy to eat. Oh, one more thing. Remind your family and friends that if they leave their plate unattended, it may be invaded by the fingers of a passerby enjoying a quick bite.
Most of you who have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia understand the dangers of an unattended candle or fireplace. What about the house lights being turned down low to enhance the twinkle of the Holiday lights? Have you ever noticed how things look vastly different in the dusk and dawn? This may be the same effect inside lighting changes have on your loved one. Their visual perception is already compromised by the Alzheimer’s. Reducing the lighting can cause things to seem stranger than they already appear. Now add to that, blinking lights and spotlights of large figures dancing on the walls. That could be terrifying. Calm and soothing routine lighting is usually the best. So, try to keep the lighting distractions to a minimum for a much more comfortable experience.
You know your loved one better than anyone else. Trust your instincts. Remember to them, you are their safe place. So, enjoy all your loved ones this Holiday season. You are not alone….. You can do this.
Fun , Fun , Fun
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Being A Care Giver Is Brave
Awwwwwww…… the Holidays are upon us. What do the Holidays mean to you? What is your first thought when you flip that calendar page and November stares you in the face?
My mind turns to the dreadful rush of shopping, food preparation and the gatherings of family and friends. Then it pleasantly goes back to a simpler time. Memories of our big Thanksgiving dinners at my childhood home pop into my mind. Suddenly it is flooded with the memories of my Last Thanksgiving spent with loved ones who are no longer physically on this earth. There my mind stays savoring the nostalgia and then the sadness washes over me. Of course, there are many Thanksgiving memories in between now and then. Those are not forgotten, just overshadowed by the absence of those precious family members.
After Thanksgiving, we quickly move to the Christmas festivities. For me Christmas has not been the same since my little children became young adults. The magical moments of children’s excitement are long gone. Santa. reindeer, decorating the tree and opening presents, all lose their magic. I try to concentrate on planning gatherings with family and friends. Then, of course, my mind wonders once again to the Last Christmas memories of those special loved ones who are no longer able to celebrate with us.
Those of you who have Loved Ones Living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia may also struggle with the wonderful memories of past Holiday celebrations. Then, possibly your mind wanders to, “This may be my last holiday them”. The Alzheimer’s or Dementia continues to progress and other illnesses can set in at any time. You say to yourself, “How can we make great holiday memories with the daily challenges we face?” Here are some ideas to help you and your loved ones plan a celebration to remember.
Keys to Having a Happy Holiday
- Change your expectations.
- Build on past traditions that were most meaningful to Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s or Dementia
- Involve your loved one as their abilities allow
- Prepare your friends and family of the changes the two of you are going through
- Decrease the size of the gathering. Encourage them to visit at different times or even different days for short periods of time.
- Have visitors wear name tags (this may help, depending on the stage of Alzheimer’s)
- If people ask about gift giving. Suggest useful gifts like favorite foods, comfortable clothing or soft cuddly items ( stuffed animals or small blankets). Don’t forget yourself. If asked, suggest gift certificates for self-care or help with household responsibilities.
- If you receive invites and your loved one is not able to attend, ask a friend or family member to sit with your loved one and go by yourself
- Stick to your loved ones routine as much as possible.
- Follow your instincts. No one knows your loved one like you do.
Hopefully, these few tips will help you and your loved ones celebrate the best possible Holidays this season. Making memories to share for years to come. Remember, you are not alone….. You can do this.
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Music and Memories
Loss and Grief
The middle of July through the end of the year is a difficult time for my family and me. We are reminded that the world continues to spin and time keeps moving forward even after a great loss. Although this difficult time does not directly pertain to Alzheimer’s and Dementia it may hit home with some of you. My thoughts are unorganized and the words don’t flow smoothly together. My lack of focus can leave my mind foggy and my body exhausted. I guess grief can do that to you.
Experts say there are seven stages of grief. I’ve found that these stages do not go in any particular order and are often repeated. These stages are Shock and Disbelief, Denial, Pain, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance/Hope. There are also different types of losses that we grieve. Of course, the loss of a Loved One to death’s door is the one most people associate with grief. Some other losses we mourn are Loss of Relationships, Employment, and Health.
Grief is exhausting and can become very overwhelming. I’ve learned that you need to feel your feelings and talk about them. As painful as that may sound, and it is painful, you have to give space to them. If not, that emotion will begin to fester and intensify until the blister finally pops. Leaving an uncontrollable ooze of negativity that can push you into a very dark place.
In that first year of my journey with grief, I stuffed my many painful emotions into a “closet”. Struggling every day to keep those “monsters” hidden behind that bulging “closet door”. I was so very afraid to confront those monstrosities of soul-shattering pain. I was using all my strength and every ounce of energy to forcefully keep that “door” shut. I found myself in a very dark place. I was very fortunate to find a safe place to allow those “monsters” out of the “closet” and talk about my shattered heart, lost hope and disappearing dreams.
Don’t Let Grief Guide Your Path
The old adage “Time heals all wounds”, is not completely true for me. Time does not heal all wounds. Even when the wounds appear to heal, there are scars left behind. These scars are a reminder of our brokenness and the strength it took to gather those pieces and put ourselves back together. Time does not heal, but using that time to learn to feel our feelings does somewhat in time ease the pain just a little. This allows us to cope with these scars without allowing them to define who we are.
Grief is difficult. Give yourself permission to talk about it. Talking about it takes away its power to consume you. Don’t let grief guide your path. Find a comfortable balance that allows grief to walk with you through this thing we call life.
That’s the Constant Question
When you are fortunate enough to be able to care for your Loved One Living with Alzheimer’s at home ….. There is a constant question looming over your head. How will you know when it’s time to place your loved one in a facility? This is a very sensitive question for most people and the answer does not come easily. My family needed to face that question about a year and a half into caring for Gram at home.
In the beginning, we had several family members and some trusted people from the community to help Gram stay at home. Gram had a sum of money in the bank and we were able to secure a grant from the county and state to help pay them. Acquiring that grant is a whole other story. In-home care is expensive, especially when supervision is required 24/7. Of course, then there’s the challenge of maintaining a caregiving schedule and balancing our own jobs and families. At first, it was an exciting challenge that we met head-on. Then the excitement wore off and we were just left with challenges. Do not get me wrong, I feel blessed to have been able to spend that time with my Gram. But it was not an easy task.
An abundant array of choice words.
Gram didn’t like a couple of the caregivers and she did not hide her dislike for them. There was many an occasion that she had an abundant array of choice words for her family too. My thought is that it comes with the territory. Being her granddaughter….. I felt I could approach the situation a little differently than I would if I were a nonrelated caregiver by being assertive and straightforward. My Gram referred to me as the “Bossy Redheaded B*tch”. Which to this day I proudly shoulder with a smile. Others were not able to separate the nasty name-calling and meanness from the Gram we knew. So, our help became scarce and volunteers were not knocking down our doors to expose themselves to this side of our beloved Gram. A very wonderful handful of caregivers did stick around and became “family”.
Wonderful handful of caregivers
Eventually, money became tight and the caregivers who choose to be private pay had to take a pay cut. Our family began to cover more shifts. Also, the county and state grant payee company lost their contract and we were faced with a several weeks delay of payment for the hours allotted for our loyal caregivers. It seemed as though this whole thing was falling apart. Our family began silently holding in grudges. Then the silence was broken and feelings got hurt. We began looking for facilities. I will leave this struggle for another story.
So for Gram’s family, the decision came down to finances. Looking back, there are quite a few things we should have done differently. But we were new to this struggle and did the best we could do at that time. There are no magical keys to this aspect of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Other families face this decision under different circumstances. Some may be confronted by the primary caregiver becoming ill or emotional exhaustion may set in. Whatever leads these families to decide to place their loved one in a facility, it is not an easy decision. It comes down to a very over thought, emotional, personal soul-searching realization that it is finally time to put their loved one in the hands of someone else.