11.19.16 Mary Yamin-Garone, DeMystifying Alzheimer’s
Good afternoon. Welcome to Demystifying Alzheimer’s. I’m your hostess Mary Yamin-Garone.
Today’s topic is “Getting through the Holidays.”
The holiday season has officially arrived. For many, that means an exhausting and exhilarating schedule of shopping, cooking, entertaining, family gatherings, brightly decorated homes, traveling and playing host to unexpected visitors.
For the more than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s and their families, however, the holidays can be stressful and sad. Already feeling overwhelmed with caregiving tasks, caregivers may view traditional holiday preparations as more of a drain of precious energy than a joy.
On a positive note, with some common sense, cooperation from friends and family and the willingness to be flexible, you’ll not only survive, you’ll also create new memories and traditions for you to enjoy for years to come.
As a caregiver, the first key to surviving the holidays is to manage your expectations. Only take on what you can reasonably manage. For example, it may not be practical to continue long-standing traditions, such as hosting a holiday open house or a big family dinner. Consider simplifying the occasion or ask another family member to host.
It’s difficult to know how much to communicate about your loved one’s decline in cognitive functioning and personal care needs. Who do you tell and how much do you reveal? It doesn’t matter if you’re entertaining guests or visiting friends, it’s important that they understand your situation. Make them aware of the changes in your loved one’s behavior and appearance. It’s understandable to have reservations about discussing your loved one’s impairments. Honest communication about the realities of your caregiving situation, however, offers your friends and family the opportunity to help. It also may help reduce some of the feelings of isolation and lack of appreciation that’s common in caregivers.
You might want to consider writing a brief note describing your loved one’s condition and include it in your holiday card. This can be a non-threatening way to update distant or uninvolved relatives and friends about the realities of your caregiving situation. If written in a non-accusatory or guilt-inducing tone, your friends and family members may be more forthcoming with help or at least have a better understanding of the effort you’re putting into providing care.
Because the behaviors of some Alzheimer’s sufferers may be unpredictable, you may have to make last minute schedule changes. Ask your friends and family members to be flexible and respect your judgment about if and when to visit. Your visits should be a distraction and a pleasure not a burden.
It’s important for someone with Alzheimer’s to have as normal a routine as possible. Disruptions to sleep patterns, meal times or medication schedules may cause them to become hyperactive or confused. Even when a big holiday meal is planned, be sure to have some finger foods or snacks on hand. Your loved one doesn’t have to wait for dinner to be served.
Spending quality time is what the holidays are all about. So it’s important to involve your loved one in manageable tasks that they can carry out successfully. While they may not be able to write holiday cards, ask them to stuff the cards into envelopes or affix postage stamps. Wrapping gifts may be too difficult but sticking bows on boxes is easy to do. Maybe your loved one can’t cook the entire meal but having them rinse the vegetables or set the table can make them feel like they’re part of the celebration.
When it comes to caregiving, it’s easy to get caught up in all the tasks of personal care and homemaking chores. That’s why it’s important to make a point of putting some time aside for yourself this holiday season to enjoy your loved on in a relaxed, one-on-one setting. The best activities are those that take advantage of their long-term memory. Look through family photo albums or unpack holiday decorations to stimulate memories.
Share your wish list. Ask for time off from your caregiving duties as a gift for the holidays. That could mean a friend or family member gives you a break. Sometimes asking for a day off “in the next three months” is more accepted because it gives them time to schedule it into their calendars. If that’s not possible, maybe they would consider paying for a home care worker or a stay at a respite facility.
Do your light bulbs need changing or grab bars need installing? That ever-growing pile of junk in the garage need to go to the dump? Tasks like these may be the perfect way for a friend or family member to help out if providing personal care is too uncomfortable for them. How about a gift certificate for a massage, facial or manicure? Or an opportunity to spend the day fishing or walking outdoors?
Caregivers often have to adapt their traditional role or how they experience the holidays. That may mean letting another family member host the more time-intensive festivities. You also may have to adjust how long your loved one is away from home to match their comfort level. In addition, you may have to choose which events to attend based on what would be the easiest, least exhausting and most enjoyable for your loved one and you.
After the holidays, write a thank you note to family members or friends who spent time with your loved one. Emphasize the positive impact their visit with your loved one had on them. This will reinforce positive feelings about their visit and diminish any discomfort they may have experienced. They also may be encouraged to visit again or be more supportive of your caregiving efforts.
Reflecting on the rewards of caregiving can help you maintain your self-esteem. It’s rewarding to know that you’re fulfilling a vow or promise you made to your loved one while learning new skills and meeting challenges in ways you never imagined possible.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I hope you found this information helpful.
Join me next time for more Demystifying Alzheimer’s.