By: Suzanne Paolucci, LCSW, Elder Care Coordinator
The staff at Tully Law, P.C. would like to take this moment to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season. Realizing that some caregiver’s may be celebrating the holiday season with a loved one who has dementia, we wanted to take this opportunity to share some helpful articles and tips.
The holiday season can often be a difficult time for those living with dementia and for their caregivers. As a caregiver, there are certain steps you can take to make this time of year as pleasant as possible for your loved one.
You may want to involve them in the tasks that they normally enjoy doing. For example, let them assist you in wrapping gifts or decorating the house. Allowing him or her to help you with this will give them a sense of purpose. Enjoy the moment with your loved one and do not expect the tasks to be carried out flawlessly.
If possible, try to keep their daily routine as normal as possible. If you have family coming over for the holidays you may want to inform them of your loved one’s daily routine so they are aware of how the day will go and will be able to assist you in following through.
Sometimes a person living with dementia can become overwhelmed and confused during the holidays. They may ask questions such as: “Where are we?” “Where are we going?” “Why are all these people here?” In this situation it is best to avoid trying to explain the answers to their questions. Explaining tends to lead to more confusion. Although as a caregiver you may experience feelings of confusion, sadness, frustration, or anger, it is important to take your loved one’s feelings in to consideration and try to comfort them in a way that they can understand. The best way to do this is through a smile and touch. Smiling is helpful because the parts of the brain that are associated with happiness and those that are receptive to smiles are still functioning. Before smiling you may want to make contact with your loved one by holding their hand. The gentle touch will be comforting to them.
Additionally, sitting your loved one at the kitchen table surrounded by relatives who are talking about “the good old times” can be comforting to them as well. They still have an abundance of memories stored in their brain from before the hippocampus stopped functioning. Telling stories, talking about holiday traditions, and singing holiday songs can tap in to your loved ones long-term memory.
The holidays often also involve traveling. If you have a doubt if your loved one is up to the task of taking a holiday vacation or overnight stay we encourage you to speak to your medical doctor. If residing in a facility speak to your loved one’s social worker or nurse to also get their input into your plans.
It may be a good idea to avoid traveling with an individual with dementia if they are experiencing the following issues:
- Being physically or verbally aggressive
- Experiencing hallucinations or paranoid or delusional thinking
- Requires special assistance or equipment to manage their day to day tasks
- Has poorly managed incontinence
- Is at risk of falling
- Are at risk of wandering
- Are taking medications that are poorly managed
Finally it is important for caregivers not to place unrealistic demands upon themselves. In some cases, a person with dementia may best be cared for in their current living environment and will do better without any major changes.
The following link is to an article written by the Alzheimer’s Association. This article provides helpful ways you as a caregiver can communicate with other family members and friends regarding your loved one’s condition. By doing so it may lessen stress for all, set clear expectations for other family members regarding your loved one’s condition and most importantly help you find ways to create treasured memories.