How To Celebrate The Holidays When A Loved One Has Alzheimer's

11:44 PM, Nov 27, 2013   |    comments
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Marlene shares a moment with her 96-year-old Mom, living with dementia.

GREENSBORO, NC-A daughter explains how her family celebrates the holidays with her mother who lives with dementia.

The holidays are stressful. Trying to coordinate plans, gift giving, cooking, and hosting puts many of us in a frenzy. But every year it's worth it because we're making memories to last a lifetime.

Sadly those memories disappear for people living with Alzheimer's. The holidays can be even more stressful and saddening for people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease.

According to Emeritus Senior Living, the number of calls to the Alzheimer's Association national hotline about people with dementia who have wandered away from their homes traditionally increases 10-percent during the winter holidays.

Marlene Cochran decided not to bring her mother, Margaret home for Thanksgiving this year. Instead the family will visit her at Emeritus.

"Last year we brought her home and she was just so uneasy, wanting to get back. They get used to their surroundings," said Marlene.

Marlene said it's been hard over the years watching her mom's quality of life change. She admits, there's been tears but she believes in cherishing the moments and staying positive during the holidays.

"Just because they have Alzheimer's does not mean they're not people. They're still family members," said Marlene.

Tammy Martin is the executive director at Emeritus Senior Living in Greensboro. She encourages family members to take care of themselves. Caregivers have to be healthy to provide comfort to a loved one with Alzheimer's. She also said that family members have to except the change and lower their expectations.

Martin said, "You can't push folks to remember. In a lot of cases those memories just aren't there anymore."

Here are tips from Emeritus Senior Living on caring for loved ones with dementia during the holidays:

Involve them in the preparations: Ask your loved one to help you make ornaments, decorate the tree, polish the menorah, wrap presents, and stuff envelopes. This will help enables him or her to feel productive and useful.

Bring the party home: If you choose to entertain, invite a few people to the home of your loved one. This will create a more comfortable environment and reduce the stress of having to travel. Showing your loved one pictures of the people coming and talk about how your loved one knows them.

Prepare visitors: Talk to friends and family before they arrive so they know what circumstances to be prepared for when meeting with your loved one. As people with dementia may remember faces, but not names, have guests wear name tags.

Make meals easier: Make it simpler for your loved one to eat by creating color contrast between the tablecloth, the plates, and the food being served, so each is easy to distinguish visually. Set the table with shallow bowls with wide brims rather than flat plates or deep bowls; they're easy and neat to dine from, and can be used for all of the fare. Provide utensils with large, easy-to-grasp handles. Provide a straw for your loved one's beverages to make drinks easier to sip.

Take care of yourself: Ask for and accept help from family and friends. Make sure you take time for yourself during this hectic season. Take a nap, go to a movie, or do something else you enjoy. This will keep you energized for the busy season and better able to care for your loved one.

Holidays offer key to unlock long-term memories: The holidays can provide a powerful reminiscing tool for anyone with dementia. The season is nostalgic for all of us, making it a very magical time to have your loved one be truly engaged and by recreating, reliving or simply discussing holiday family traditions. Engage them in a familiar family tradition, even from their childhood. Making a special recipe such as fudge, cookies or egg nog for Christmas or making latkes for Hanukkah are just two of many activities that can bring back memories and feelings of joy.

More information on how to care for someone with dementia and memory assessment tools can be found by clicking here: Caregiver Resources

WFMY News 2, Emeritus Senior Living

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