Sometimes I ask friends and/or family, "what should I write about this weekwhat would you like to read?". Often, they will point me in the right direction and this week is no exception. A girlfriend suggested, "could you write about when family visits for the holidays?". Not a problem.but why not take it one step further, and write about when the visiting family member is struggling with dementia.
The holidays can be a very emotional time for caregivers or family members with Alzheimer's Disease or a related dementia. A time of joy and togetherness for most, can become extremely stressful and overwhelming during the holiday season.
Many families will be spending time with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who may be struggling with dementia. It is important that care is taken to ensure that a safe, anxiety free environment is created for all.
Here are some tips to support a person with dementia during the Christmas season courtesy of the Alzheimer Resource Centre in Dawson Creek:
Traveling by air - If your parent, grandparent, etc. is traveling by air to spend the holidays with you, book their flight directno connections. Advise the airline that you would like them to meet and assist your family member getting on and off the aircraft.
R & R - realize that the trip has been stressful and that the individual is now in unfamiliar surroundings. Spend that first evening at home, quietly, helping to orient him or her to your home.
Pets - Small (calm) pets can be good therapy for someone with dementia. Remember that small animals sometimes are underfoot and can create a tripping hazard.
Babies - Infants can be therapeutic; whereas, toddlers may create stress. They move quickly and don't speak clearly which can exacerbate confusion. If there are toddlers or small children around for Christmas, be aware that they can cause stress for someone with dementia and perhaps limit the exposure.
The gangs all here! - Encourage visitors to come in small groups as larger groups can be overwhelming. If your family member lives in a care home, why not take the celebration to them instead of taking them out of their familiar environment. Perhaps a family room is available for you to use to open gifts, etc.
Involvement - Everyone wants to feel like they are contributing, enlist the help of the person with dementia by asking them to set the table, wrap presents, etc. Be careful that you do not overstep their capabilities.
Better safe than sorry - It is important that you consider the safety of your family member during their stay. Wandering is a common symptom of someone with dementia so it is important that doors are locked, especially at night. Ensure that the hallway between their room and the washroom is lit either by a night light or a lamp. It may also be helpful to have a clip art picture of a toilet, tub or sink taped to the bathroom door as a helpful visual reminder.
Keep an eye out - watch for signs that the individual is over tired, over stimulated, hungry or dehydrated. A phenomenon known as "sundowning" can also occur. Sundowning is known as late day confusion of a person with dementia: usually caused by over-stimulation and fatigue..
Reminisce and remember - focus on happy memories from years ago by looking at old photos and telling stories. Even during the most confused moments, my grandmother would enjoy just sitting and listening to our voices. There was no pressure for her to respond or even contribute to the conversation unless she wanted to, which helped to minimize her anxiety.
Lastly, as a caregiver of someone with dementia you can already be tapped out emotionally and physically and the added stress of a holiday season can become overwhelming. Don't expect too much from yourself and don't feel guilty that you aren't feeling that "Christmassy". Look after yourself and accept help when offered. Ask for someone to provide some respite for you by relieving you for a couple of hours. Take that time to go for a walk, have coffee with friends, go to a movie or out for dinner.
Where can you get more information and assistance? I referred to the IN TOUCH Bulletin for Caregivers "Special Holiday Edition" written by the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia. The Society provides invaluable support, information and guidance. Their website is www.alzheimerbc.org
You can also call Muriel Stanley, the local Alzheimer Support and Education Coordinator at (250) 782-1439 for more information.
Have a safe and memorable holiday.
Judy Kucharuk is owner of Footprint Management Systems Inc. and specializes in Green Meetings and Events. For more info log onto www.managefootprint.com or check out her Facebook page, the "Green Eyed Event Planner"