Holiday Food for Thought

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.   

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The Last Holidays

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

  1. Change your expectations.
  2. Build on past traditions that were most meaningful to Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s or Dementia
  3. Involve your loved one as their abilities allow
  4. Prepare your friends and family of the changes the two of you are going through
  5. Decrease the size of the gathering. Encourage them to visit at different times or even different days for short periods of time.
  6. Have visitors wear name tags (this may help, depending on the stage of Alzheimer’s)
  7. 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.
  8. 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
  9. Stick to your loved ones routine as much as possible. 
  10. 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. 

Comforting Words and Alzheimer’s

Communicating Safety and Love

 

What words bring comfort to you…. cat, dog, mom, church, maybe even the word blue brings a sense of calm to you? Why do you suppose these words hold some sort of importance to you? Chances are they evoke feelings from somewhere deep inside you. If you think of a word as an emotion, rather than as the item the word describes; your new found ability to communicate could be the key that opens the door of understanding to communicate with a person living with Alzheimer’s.

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Not only words but familiar surroundings like sitting at a dinner table or passing a church can bring emotions to the surface. How about a familiar task such as folding laundry or washing dishes? What about a picture of a baby or a picture of a field of flowers? All of these simple things we may take for granted every day may have great meaning for a person living with Alzheimer’s. When I hear the words “homemade bread” or even bread pan….. I smile. It takes me back to the feeling of being loved by my Gram. All her hugs and kisses she bestowed upon me throughout her life. It also can bring back sadness. I miss the wonderful smell of baking bread as I entered her kitchen. I miss my Gram.

Listen with your heart

When your loved one says a word. Don’t take it for its literal meaning. Take a minute and think about what may revolve around that word. It may take them back in time, unlocking emotions from deep within their heart. Instead of just listening with your ears…..Listen with your heart. Let the true communication begin.

 

 

 

 

What Do You Mean

I Don’t Understand

“What do you mean?” and” I don’t understand “… As a caregiver for a person living with Alzheimer’s, these phrases can be frustrating. Something that seems simple to us, such as, saying ” Let’s go this way”, then just walking away …..Can make the PLWA feel abandoned and frustrated. The words must sound more like Whant, Whant, Whant and Blah, Blah, Blah than an actual request or suggestion. Instead of just saying something to them, take the person by the hand or make a forwarding gesture as you say “Let’s go this way”.

What about after your sixth try to assist your loved one to the restroom. You finally get them to the restroom, give their pants a tug and say “Ok, now pull your pants down”. Just for them to look at you like you are crazy and cling to their pants with clenched fists. They probably feel vulnerable and afraid which may lead to anger. This anger may lead to aggression. Wow…… this situation just got bad in a hurry. But why? You have a request and made a simple gesture…Think about the intimacy involved in using the restroom and the trust the PLWA has to have with the person assisting them. Does their reaction make sense now? Use step by step instructions with non-invasive gestures. Take your cues from them….. They will let you assist them when they feel comfortable and safe with you.

It takes lots of patience.

It takes patience, lots of patience. Sometimes it will be a success and sometimes it won’t. Trial and error…… Keep trying. What works today may not work tomorrow. Remember, you are not the only struggling caregiver. With support from others like us. You can hold our caregiving head up high and say, “I Can Do This!!!!”

Morning Confusion

 

Basic Needs

I have never been a morning person. You can ask my husband or my children and they would all agree….. coffee first…. conversation later. How do you feel in the morning? If you’re anything like me…. your head is foggy, your joints are stiff and your tongue feels like sandpaper. If you were a person living with Alzheimer’s, add the confusion of not knowing where you are or who is in the room with you or why are you cold and wet? I don’t know about you but I’d be afraid, probably very afraid.

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Now this strange person is saying something about clothes and a bath….. you don’t understand…The person reaches for you and you say “No” and pull away from them and try to get through the doorway. You’re still cold, a little unsteady and that person is still following you saying words you don’t understand and reaching for you. Sounds pretty terrifying to me. You might start swearing, crying or even hitting this strange person.

A Smile and a Soft Gentle Voice

Wow ….. I thought my mornings were tough. How can we as caregivers make mornings less stressful for everyone? A smile and a soft gentle voice may help. How about a familiar tune to set the mind at ease. Remember, if we were lucky enough to sleep for six or more hours we’re probably thirsty and hungry. Try offering a favorite drink or food. Is there a favorite robe or stuffed animal that brings them comfort. Most of all be patient. It may take fifteen minutes or maybe hours to regain their trust.

 

Remember every day is a new day. So turn on a tune, enjoy a cup of coffee and be patient with yourself. It’s gonna be a good morning.

Tips for Coping with Sundowning

Tips for Coping with Sundowning

Late afternoon and early evening can be difficult for some people with Alzheimer’s disease. They may experience sundowning—restlessness, agitation, irritability, or confusion that can begin or worsen as daylight begins to fade—often just when tired caregivers need a break.Woman with Alzheimer's experiencing sundowning

Sundowning can continue into the night, making it hard for people with Alzheimer’s to fall asleep and stay in bed. As a result, they and their caregivers may have trouble getting enough sleep and functioning well during the day.

Possible Causes

The causes of sundowning are not well understood. One possibility is that Alzheimer’s-related brain changes can affect a person’s “biological clock,” leading to confused sleep-wake cycles. This may result in agitation and other sundowning behaviors.

Other possible causes of sundowning include:

Coping with Sundowning

Look for signs of sundowning in the late afternoon and early evening. These signs may include increased confusion or anxiety and behaviors such as pacing, wandering, or yelling. If you can, try to find the cause of the person’s behavior.

If the person with Alzheimer’s becomes agitated, listen calmly to his or her concerns and frustrations. Try to reassure the person that everything is OK and distract him or her from stressful or upsetting events.

You can also try these tips:

  • Reduce noise, clutter, or the number of people in the room.
  • Try to distract the person with a favorite snack, object, or activity. For example, offer a drink, suggest a simple task like folding towels, or turn on a familiar TV show (but not the news or other shows that might be upsetting).
  • Make the early evening a quiet time of day. You might play soothing music, read, or go for a walk. You could also have a family member or friend call during this time.
  • Close the curtains or blinds at dusk to minimize shadows and the confusion they may cause. Turn on lights to help minimize shadows.

Preventing Sundowning

Being too tired can increase late-afternoon and early-evening restlessness. Try to avoid this situation by helping the person:

Avoid things that seem to make sundowning worse:

  • Do not serve coffee, cola, or other drinks with caffeine late in the day.
  • Do not serve alcoholic drinks. They may add to confusion and anxiety.
  • Do not plan too many activities during the day. A full schedule can be tiring.

If Problems Persist

If sundowning continues to be a problem, seek medical advice. A medical exam may identify the cause of sundowning, such as pain, a sleep disorder or other illness, or a medication side effect.

If medication is prescribed to help the person relax and sleep better at night, be sure to find out about possible side effects. Some medications can increase the chances of dizziness, falls, and confusion. Doctors recommend using them only for short periods of time.

Source: Tips for Coping with Sundowning

Alzheimer’s and Hallucinations, Delusions, and Paranoia

Alzheimer’s and Hallucinations, Delusions, and Paranoia

Due to complex changes occurring in the brain, people with Alzheimer’s disease may see or hear things that have no basis in reality.

 

  • Hallucinations involve hearing, seeing, smelling, or feeling things that are not really there. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s may see children playing in the living room when no children exist.
  • Delusions are false beliefs that the person thinks are real. For example, the person may think his or her spouse is in love with someone else.
  • Paranoia is a type of delusion in which a person may believe—without a good reason—that others are mean, lying, unfair, or “out to get me.” He or she may become suspicious, fearful, or jealous of people.

If a person with Alzheimer’s has ongoing disturbing hallucinations or delusions, seek medical help. An illness or medication may cause these behaviors. Medicines are available to treat these behaviors but must be used with caution. The following tips may also help you cope with these behaviors.

Hallucinations and Delusions

Here are some tips for coping with hallucinations and delusions:

  • Discuss with the doctor any illnesses the person with Alzheimer’s has and medicines he or she is taking. Sometimes an illness or medicine may cause hallucinations or delusions.
  • Try not to argue with the person about what he or she sees or hears. Comfort the person if he or she is afraid.
  • Distract the person. Sometimes moving to another room or going outside for a walk helps.
  • Turn off the TV when violent or upsetting programs are on. Someone with Alzheimer’s may think these events are happening in the room.
  • Make sure the person is safe and can’t reach anything that could be used to hurt anyone or himself or herself.

Paranoia

In a person with Alzheimer’s disease, paranoia often is linked to memory loss. It can become worse as memory loss gets worse. For example, the person may become paranoid if he or she forgets:

  • Where he or she put something. The person may believe that someone is taking his or her things.
  • That you are the person’s caregiver. Someone with Alzheimer’s might not trust you if he or she thinks you are a stranger.
  • People to whom the person has been introduced. He or she may believe that strangers will be harmful.
  • Directions you just gave. The person may think you are trying to trick him or her.

Paranoia may be the person’s way of expressing loss. The person may blame or accuse others because no other explanation seems to make sense.

Here are some tips for coping with paranoia:

  • Try not to react if the person blames you for something.
  • Don’t argue with the person.
  • Let the person know that he or she is safe.
  • Use gentle touching or hugging to show you care.
  • Explain to others that the person is acting this way because he or she has Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Search for things to distract the person, then talk about what you found. For example, talk about a photograph or keepsake.

Also, keep in mind that someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have a good reason for acting a certain way. He or she may not be paranoid. There are people who take advantage of weak and elderly people. Find out if someone is trying to abuse or steal from the person with Alzheimer’s. For more information, visit Elder Abuse.

Source: Alzheimer’s and Hallucinations, Delusions, and Paranoia