Holidays with Alzheimer’s

Dear francy; My mother and I took my dad (who has early dementia) to Texas to have a family Thanksgiving. It was simply the worst event of my life. Dad was confused from the moment we got in the car. The check- in at the airport was awful. He was mad and angry at the TSA check through. Then on the plane, he simply got rude to the flight attendant and everything went downhill from there. He did not want to be at our relatives, he did not want to eat. Oh my gosh; it was simply one moment of embarrassment after another. Dad had shown little signs of dementia at home, but we had no idea of his decline until we went on this trip. Should we get him into the doctor for a checkup or is this a normal event that we simply missed the signs?

Alzheimers at Holiday, Alzheimer's, Seniors Alone

My Georgie at Christmas

 

I think it’s really both. Your doctor should hear that he was so moody and had what they call an “event” on the plane. That is common, the oxygen changes in the plane and it affects the brain. But the doctor needs to know the different things that happened. So, first write it all down in simple terms like an outline. Fax that letter into your doctor or take it with you for the next appointment. Ask for an appointment as soon as possible. Christmas is right around the corner and if the stress of change is beginning to affect him – you need to get it handled.

The doctor will read the letter that you outlined the problem and be able to assist you in a mood type of drug that will help your dad cope with the pressure of change. It will mean that he will be less upset and that is the goal for all of you as a family. These medications are designed to just calm him down, not make him tired or unfeeling. As the dementia progresses; your doctor will increase this medication as needed. This is what your doctor and medications are for so do not feel like you are doing something wrong to report his behavior and ask for help. Doctors are trained to help you and so you will become part of the health team for your dad. You, your mother, the doctors and your dad; all together working to make his dementia progression as slow as possible = Health Team.

Have a talk with your mother and really allow her to express herself. She may be shocked and upset at his behavior, or she may have been looking the other way on all to many occasions when your dad has been moody before this “event”. She has to talk about it, if she is covering for him – as many loyal wives do for their spouses – that has to be talked about. His health means being very open and out there with the different ups and downs of his behavior. He will go downhill on a fast track if he is allowed to just go on emotional upsets without any attention being given to them. So, your mother is the front push of the Health Team. She has to get used to talking to you honestly about the daily ups and downs in your dad’s behavior. Then you both can decide when that behavior is not acceptable and needs to be reported to the doctor. Dementia/Alzheimer’s patients can get angry and not know how to express their needs and will lash out with words and with physical fighting. If that happens; the doctors need to know so they can medicate and keep the patient calmer. Your mother has to be protected from any harm during her care giving. Honesty between you and your mother will be a key to giving your dad good care.

Alzheimer’s/Dementia Spouse care givers have to be giving all the knowledge they can have to understand the steps in the decline of the senior. That way they know how to express their own needs and what to do to keep their own spirit and health intact.

Here are some ideas to help the spouse or the family care giver:

  • You may have to make plans for your dad to have a pro care giver brought in once a week to care for him while your mom gets rest or an outing.
  • You may need to take him to a day care for dementia patients once or twice a week –  or just a few hours – so he can get some interaction with others and your mother gets a rest.
  • Maybe once a week you and your family can come over for a Saturday night movie and bring dinner…so your parents can have family interaction and feel like they are still connected and not alone.
  • You may want to call five of your dad’s old friends and ask if they would commit to calling him once a week in the early afternoon, or coming over to visit once a month for no more than 20 minutes. That will give your dad a touch of friendship and connection with others.
  • You may want to have a bath lady come and do the personal bath each week. That way your mother does not have to argue about a bath. It keeps dad clean and keeps mom calmer.
  • Maybe you can have a neighbor/sibling come over for two hours each week and you take your mom shopping with you. Then stop for a quiet coffee time and then back home. This break means your mother gets a boost of energy from you and your dad gets a separation from routine.
  • Make sure your dad gets an out and about at least every other week. Even if he gets uptight. It can be a car ride to get gas and coffee and never really leaving the car. Or a ride to your house for dinner. Keep the event short and simple. Try not to include a big crowd or strangers.
  • Sunday services may not be on the list any longer. You can ask the pastor to visit the house each week. Or you can attend a quieter mid-week service. These large crowds of people, even though he knows them well – can set him off to a place of insecurity and that means opening him up for another “event”.

To Review:

  1. Get the doctor on board with information and updating medication
  2. Make sure the main care giver understands that the senior is changing and they will both need more support
  3. Get professional support for just a few hours each week, so the cost is within budget and the spouse has a relief from care
  4. Get family and friends to assist you in their own way to keep your dad connected but calm
  5. Keep your senior out of the house but within boundaries of their own comfort level
  6. Change things around for the senior like heavy holiday stress or large faith or family events into smaller doses to keep comfort level calm
  7. Holidays can be any day that has friends and family around the senior with a light dinner. The stress of thinking you have to have a big event with all the trimmings is now going to change. Do not think “This may be his last Christmas for him to remember.” He has already changed, his holiday has to be less of everything, with more love and happy up energy.

This whole adventure through care of loved ones at holiday time– is a bum. I am learning step by step as I go forward with my husband who has Alzheimer’s. Our Thanksgiving was way too much for him and I was to blame. I wanted him to be happy…but I forgot that his happy has changed. A simple good meal and a good movie would have been much better. I have learned and I will not be doing a big push for Christmas. Keeping things down and calm, but still celebrating is the ticket. I guess we are all going through this journey and learning together and I thank you for all you are doing for your parents.

Blessings on your holidays may they be quiet, calm and filled with the real love that you and your family have for each other…

   Francy with Missy  Come and enjoy more info at www.SeniorCareWithSpirit.com  

  PS: 

 DONATE: I spend time-sharing with hundreds of families all over the US so they can cope with caring for their senior. I’m at home with my husband, George, on a full-time basis and I always appreciate a donation for my time-sharing with you on this site. I thank you for your kindness…and ask that you share my site information with those that you know that are caring for seniors — francy 
 
 Join my Newsletter Listing: I just got the new newsletter issue finished…I send out a newsletter and talk about the behind the scenes of daily care giving with George and clients. You’ll also hear about Missy and my crazy, busy life with joy – in the middle of chaos. It’s a more personal look at Alzheimer’s. When you click and go to my home page it will take you through the sign up with your name, city and email and I will send you a small thank you gift Free…for your time. I will hold all your information private. You will receive a monthly newsletter and can remove your name any time from my listing. And once again I would appreciate you spreading the news about my work, there are  a lot of care givers out there that could use someone to talk to and get ideas back. Thanks so much – francy

NO MORE HOLIDAY DÉCOR?

Seniors Need Holiday Decor

Keep Senior Happy at Holidays

Seniors Stay Healthy with Holiday Celebrations By francy Dickinson

Dear Francy; Mother lost Dad last April and this is her first holiday without him. She has decided that since it’s just her, in her small home she will not decorate for Christmas this year. She has always been heavy on the holiday decorating so I am surprised and worried it’s a sign of depression. Should I be pushing her into a therapy session?

Any therapy is always good for people to have when they have been through a loss of a close loved one. If you decide to go that route I think a senior support group with folks of similar experience would be wise instead of a heavy duty therapy session. Most seniors will go through all the stages of loss and it may take them longer than younger people…to process. Holidays without spouses are tough…so give her room to grow into the new person she has to now become.

NO MORE DÉCOR? NO WAY

I feel very strongly about décor of any kind for the seasons. Not just Christmas or Halloween, but all the seasons. As we all go through life on a busy highway; days begin to slip away so fast. One day is two weeks, then its three months and then it’s our birthday round again. To keep our minds in the present and to celebrate life’s seasons we need to remind ourselves of the season and the best way to do that is to decorate with touches of spring, summer, fall and winter.

Being alone is no excuse to ignore the celebration of life that goes on around you. There is not a season on our calendar that we do not find a holiday or special birthday or event…to celebrate. This way we make a point of the celebration and have something to look forward to and a way to use our creative side.

This idea that we can change what we eat and stop cooking properly or change how we clean our homes and live among a pile of newspapers — grows with the idea that being alone, means no one cares. WRONG. We have to care; our homes and our lives have to be led as though we are having friends over that evening for cake and coffee. It’s a mindset that needs to be instilled in small children and seniors. Live your life like you are prepared for an upcoming event…and an upcoming event will happen!

My mother lived a very long life in good health and totally busy at all times. She passed at 100 and she had made the most of her full life cycle. She would talk to me about all her girlfriends starting to age more and more. “Francy, she lives in a tiny hole of apartment and has no room for us to play cards.” Or “Francy, she let her hair go gray and instantly started walking so slow she gave up our walks at the mall.”

Mother would share these things with me. She watched others go through their idea of what was accepted as “Getting Old” or being “a Widow” and she never liked what she saw. So, mother kept her home up on a daily basis. She would get up and pick up the small but ample apartment she lived in each morning. She would have her breakfast and then do a little clean-up with dusting and doing her dishes. Then she would settle in and do some reading or her knitting. If the weather was nice she was outside working in the yard for a few hours and if the weather was bad she was meeting a friend for a walk in a covered spot. She got out and about twice a week. She baked pies, cookies and froze them for family a couple of times a week and she had her home ready for the season at all times.

Everyone enjoyed stopping to visit mother. Her home was clean, it smelled delightful, her coffee pot was always brewing fresh coffee and those cookies could be popped in the microwave for heating up at any time. It was always enjoyable.  On her own, she would sit in her living room and enjoy the clean open room and her décor for the upcoming holiday.

YES…the décor was minimal compared to her days of a big home, larger family or when her husband was alive. But the seasonal décor was important to her and she was always finding ways to make small statements that spread the cheer. Her door would have a hanging craft piece that she would find at the local craft fair. Her coffee table would have an arrangement fitting the colors and theme of the season. She would have a small table top tree and a village scene on her dining room table. She found ways to make the joy shout out, even if it was holiday towels in her bathroom or a pretty holiday theme platter or cookie jar on her kitchen counter top. All year long, she found ways of stating the season changes and that made her home special for us to visit…and for her to enjoy her life on her own.

Being inside of life as it moves is so important. If you allow yourself or your senior to sit in the dark and retreat they will begin a downward slide in their mental and physical health. And remember; the argument that, “I really don’t care anymore now that dad is gone” – does not work. First, family and friends are still in place and need the senior. Second; letting ourselves go down does not mean a pretty dying in your sleep. It means you could have a serious heart problem and not be able to breath and have to use oxygen all the time, you could have a stroke and have to drag your legs around or be bed-ridden. Trust me; life is not perfect…so the alternative? Change the outlook in small ways to keep things comforting for the  senior, but in flux. Change is scary, but it’s also exciting.

NO DO NOT MOVE WITHIN A FEW MONTHS OF LOSING YOUR SPOUSE. But make changes. Take their favorite chair out of the living area. Paint the walls, buy new throw pillows. Do things to slightly start to remove them from the home but not leave the spouse with a feeling of loss every day. So, change the décor for Christmas this year; but do not put up the big tree with all the family ornaments. Leave that stuff in a box till next year and then the senior can sort the ornaments and give them to family members for special childhood memory gifts. But this year; buy a new small tree; one that spins or has those lovely laser lights inside that change color. Buy a poinsettia for the cocktail table and a nice fresh wreath for “inside” the front door so the pine scent spreads around the house or apartment. Put up some new holiday towels in the bathroom and ready a spot in the kitchen for the holiday cards. Have your mom take a picture of her and all her grandkids dressed in hats, scarves and gloves and use that as her holiday greeting card. Get her tickets to the local holiday performance of “the Singing Christmas Tree” “Nutcracker” or church play. Allow her to have her calendar filled with weekly things she will do with family and friends or the senior center. Keep her busy. So she can start to restructure what she feels is a happy holiday.

Happiness comes in all sizes and within funny events. It may be helpful to take your senior shopping for small grandkids gifts. It may be best for you to have a teen grandchild come over and do all the wrapping for grandma. It may be best to bring the senior over to your home on the Christmas cookie baking day and have her do the dishes while you whirl around your kitchen. Holidays can be remade and invented for all of us-as we age. But holidays and seasons, make our lives special. To give that up is a step towards being a sad and lonely person.

To change our lives just enough to move us into a new and rewarding future is the key for us all. Making new traditions is not hard, it just takes loving hearts and hands to help the senior see the new sights from a different window.

Blessings on all you do for your mom, francy

   Francy with Missy  Come and enjoy more info at www.SeniorCareWithSpirit.com  

  PS: 

 DONATE: I spend time-sharing with hundreds of families all over the US so they can cope with caring for their senior. I’m at home with my husband, George, on a full-time basis and I always appreciate a donation for my time-sharing with you on this site. I thank you for your kindness…and ask that you share my site information with those that you know that are caring for seniors — francy 
 
 Join my Newsletter Listing: I just got the new newsletter issue finished…I send out a newsletter and talk about the behind the scenes of daily care giving with George and clients. You’ll also hear about Missy and my crazy, busy life with joy – in the middle of chaos. It’s a more personal look at Alzheimer’s. When you click and go to my home page it will take you through the sign up with your name, city and email and I will send you a small thank you gift Free…for your time. I will hold all your information private. You will receive a monthly newsletter and can remove your name any time from my listing. And once again I would appreciate you spreading the news about my work, there are  a lot of care givers out there that could use someone to talk to and get ideas back. Thanks so much – francy