Violet and Lawrence have been married for 68 years. After a lifetime of hard work, travelling through early retirement and most recently relaxing in retirement living together, they are now separated. Lawrence’s dementia progressed and he began wandering at night. He could no longer be safely cared for in retirement, and he moved to long term care.
Violet had been very physically healthy and she had been caring for Lawrence for years within the retirement home where, together with staff, she could handle his needs. But once he began exit seeking and leaving in the night, even Violet had to admit she couldn’t manage his needs safely.
It ripped her heart out to have him move to another location across town.
Now, Violet attempts to visit most days. She wasn’t a confident driver, to begin with, but she is attempting to drive across town every day and stay with Lawrence throughout the afternoon and dinner.
She fears that he won’t eat unless she is at his side, so she remains for both lunch and dinner. She worries about how she will visit every day when the winter weather begins. She never drove in the winter and at 89, she isn’t keen to start winter driving.
You can see the toll it is taking on Violet. She appears to be withering before your eyes. She has lost weight and she looks exhausted. She suddenly strikes you as rather frail. She is probably stretching herself too thin, but she wants someone to be with Lawrence through lunch and dinner.
Violet needs Warm Embrace to provide a caregiver for Lawrence. A Warm Embrace caregiver could visit Lawrence through lunch and dinner and keep him engaged in activities throughout the afternoon. Of course, we can’t replace Violet’s visits, but we can supplement her visits.
We can provide a regular schedule so that Violet does not feel obliged to visit every day. She can take some much-needed time to relax and rejuvenate herself.
Warm Embrace caregivers can visit Lawrence on set days of the week, and on those days, Violet can remain at the retirement residence, eating her meals in the dining room with her friends.
She can rejoin the social activities and events that she participated in for all those years and not become disconnected from her peer group. But she can do so with the reassurance that Lawrence is not alone. He is with a dedicated caregiver who will ensure that he has the best afternoon possible.
By recommending additional support for Lawrence, you may actually be saving Violet’s health. She needs the support—possibly more than Lawrence does—and your recommendation to alleviate her stress could make the difference for Violet.
Do you have any residents who are similar to Lawrence and Violet? We’d be happy to improve the quality of life for each of them by providing a dedicated caregiver when they need it most. Reach out to us today!
It’s easy to assume that every family but yours is a Hallmark family—you know, the families for whom all those rosy greeting cards are written. You stand in the aisle at the greeting card store, reading card after card, thinking “who is this stuff written for?” You step back and assume that everyone else’s family must match the Hallmark ideal. . . otherwise, who buys all those cards?
Then you go home and watch Modern Family or Keeping up with the Kardashians just to feel normal again. At least your family isn’t as messed up as THAT! No wonder people binge-watch series about messed up families or reality television series full of exaggerated drama. Compared to all that, your family is golden!
After more than a decade of helping families who are in the throes of family caregiving or a health crisis, I can tell you this—there is no such thing as a Hallmark family. There are no Cleavers or Brady Bunches. Every family has its ups and downs, its complexities and its dramas. Every family has an image they present to the world, and that image is usually different than the comprehensive version that emerges if you could see all the nuances.
In the world of eldercare, we see this all the time.
A health crisis occurs—a hip fracture, a fall, a hospital admission, a diagnosis of dementia—and cracks start to appear. A health crisis puts a strain on the entire ecosystem of a family; it can ripple across generations, affecting everyone to varying degrees.
It’s like the old saying—“when you get bumped what’s on the inside comes out.”
It isn’t uncommon for old patterns to emerge, or childhood woes to resurface, or grudges and resentments be dredged out. It’s exactly this type of stuff that makes families complex and entirely unique—and nothing like the fantasy world of The Brady Bunch.
Of course, these emotionally draining issues are utterly exhausting, which further reduces your resiliency to deal with the crisis at hand. Later you’ll look back and think “why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut?” or “that wasn’t the right battle to choose….what was I thinking?”
You weren’t thinking, you were just responding emotionally—and so was everyone else in the situation. It’s easy to look back and edit what should have been said and done, but at the moment, through the fog of high emotions, lack of sleep, uncertainty, confusion and exhaustion, things are said and done by various members of the family. Next thing you know, it feels like there’s drama!
Through it all, you may be relieved to know, that your family is not that crazy after all! In fact, you’re probably more normal than you think. If normal means standard, regular, average then your family IS normal by having complex dynamics because every other family also has complex dynamics. There are no Hallmark families, so stop worrying about trying to attain that status. Acknowledge the absurdities that make your family what it is, and aim to work with those absurdities—rather than hiding them—to find your way moving forward.
Even families who appear strong and tight-knit, devoted and loyal to each other with abundant love and joy—even those remarkably blessed families have their unique dynamics that are rattled under the pressure of a health crisis.
If you’re really lucky, the glowing version that you present to the world may not be too far off the real version. Years go by—maybe even a decade or two—and you’ll believe that façade has become the reality. Beware though, when a crisis emerges, so do the cracks in the façade.
The holidays are over now, and here we are, at the start of a fresh new year. Did you make a list of New Year’s Resolutions? Have you ever noticed how self-centred our resolutions tend to be? Most resolutions focus on losing weight, exercising more, or watching less TV. These are certainly healthy suggestions that are great for self-improvement but they are rather self-centred.
What if this year, resolutions centred around helping someone else? We often think to volunteer over the holiday season. For instance, cooking at a soup kitchen or singing at a nursing home, but then we wait until the following December before volunteering again. This year, we can resolve to assist others starting in January!
There are 24 hours in a day, why not take a couple minutes from your day to help someone else? You just might make their day!
We all know at least one senior – a family member, a neighbour, a fellow church member – who might be feeling alone. You can start with a simple act of kindness, such as placing one phone call per week to someone who might be lonely or make a personal weekly visit to someone who is shut-in. You can always send a card by mail – the good old-fashioned way!
If you want to go above and beyond - winter is the perfect time to reach out to seniors and to offer any assistance that you can. You can assist with shovelling snow and/or salting their driveway and walkway, you can offer to run errands during snowy days, or you can cook an extra-large dinner one evening and take leftovers to someone who has difficulty cooking.
The more you look for ways to bless other people, the more you will be blessed yourself. Resolutions focused on giving will make such a difference to the recipient, that you’ll be inspired to actually adhere to your resolution. Setting just one resolution this year—to bless at least one person per week—has the potential to multiply and reach many people. You will find it so rewarding that you are bound to successfully achieve your resolution!
We at Warm Embrace Elder Care wish you a very blessed 2020 and we hope you find joy in reaching out to bless others in this upcoming year.
Learning to be zen and mindful is something that takes incredible focus, dedication and practice. There are entire fields of study dedicated to mindfulness and how beneficial it can be to our overall health. People spend excessive amounts of money to attend yoga and mindfulness retreats where they aim to be entirely present in the moment without regretting the past or worrying about the future. While these retreats may have their place, there’s another way to learn how to be present directly from a zen master.
Spend the afternoon with someone who has dementia. That’s right. That’s all there is to it. People with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can teach us a lot about how to be in this moment, completely and fully.
When you spend time with someone who has dementia, they are present in that moment and they’re acutely aware of their environment around them. They are noticing sights and sounds and temperature variations in that particular moment in time. They may not be able to articulate it entirely, but they are very much present in the moment.
The challenge is usually more for us than it is for them. We are the ones who have a hard time slowing down. How many details from our immediate environment do we miss completely because we’re totally absorbed thinking about the past or worrying about the future? When you spend the afternoon with someone who has dementia, they are truly with you for that afternoon. They are not creating a grocery list in their head. They aren’t worrying about what to cook for dinner later. They aren’t wondering if they’ll have enough time to squeeze in an extra errand after the visit. They are present, with you, in the moment.
Sometimes, someone with dementia will jump from one topic to the next and you might think that they weren’t engaged in the conversation if their brain was heading in such a different direction than yours. Remember that the connections between areas of the brain and the way information is stored, retrieved and processed is very much impacted by dementia. Two different topics that to you seem unrelated, might be connected in an abstract way for someone who has dementia. In their mind, those two topics may be connected and to them, it feels that the conversation is flowing. They aren’t feeling that the conversation is disjointed; they are following the conversation exactly as their brain is permitting in that moment. They are entirely present and engaged; their brain is just taking a different route than your brain.
Sometimes when someone has advanced dementia they may be using the knowledge that they gained early in their life to make sense of their world. They may ask for their parents; they may call you by their sibling’s name. They may reference attending school, or planning for their wedding, or having their first child. Sometimes, people interpret this to mean that someone with dementia is “living in the past.” This isn’t true.
Someone with dementia is living entirely in the moment today—they are as much in the moment as you are. Their brain is just relying on information from decades ago to explain what they are experiencing in this present moment. They recognize that you are a person who is close to them and very much connected to them, and their brain uses that archived knowledge when it assigns the name of their sibling to you. They are not living in the past; they are engaging with you in this very moment. They are just relying on data from their long-term memory that is no longer reliable. But be aware that they are very much present in the moment and acutely aware of information they’re absorbing through their five senses.
We can learn a lot from our friends who have dementia. If we can join them, at their pace, to experience the world around them, we can have a very zen moment. We can learn to notice and appreciate small details.
That’s a trick question—there is no age when exercise isn’t important. Just because someone is elderly doesn’t mean they’re exempt from exercise!
It does mean the exercise needs to be modified to match ability level and possible injuries or conditions such as arthritis. What qualifies as exercise also shifts as someone ages. When someone is young, it may take a jog or run to get their heart rate up, whereas an elderly senior may increase their heartrate just by walking. The important thing is to increase the heart rate and to get the blood and oxygen flowing.
Sadly, many seniors lead highly sedentary lives. All too often, the lazy boy recliner becomes the centre of seniors’ worlds. They settle into the recliner first thing in the morning and watch television for a significant part of the day. They nap in the chair…they may even sleep in the chair all night as a surprising number of seniors tend to do.
The most activity they get is a few steps to the washroom and back. Even then, I’ve met many seniors who intentionally limit their fluid intake to reduce the number of washroom trips required! Going to the washroom may be the only activity they’re getting, and even then they’re limiting that.
A senior who has become accustomed to such a sedentary lifestyle will need to reintroduce activity gradually. Compared to their currently sedentary day, it does not take much effort to suddenly double activity levels! Simply getting up and out of their chair becomes a form of activity that cannot be taken for granted.
If you’re visiting someone who tends to be overly sedentary, encourage as much movement and activity as possible.
As a precaution, you might avoid suggesting “exercise”. Calling it “exercise” may be a barrier to some elderly people. If they don’t have the same context as you do for prioritizing fitness and exercise, they may not be inclined to want to “exercise”.
Instead, integrate basic activity into your visit. Suggest sitting at the kitchen table together for a bit. Ask them to show you around. Step outside into the backyard. While it may not qualify as exercise for you, it is most definitely an increase in activity for them. Be mindful to not push too hard too quickly, but continually suggest more and more activity—and increasing lengths of time out of the lazy boy chair.
When you’re in the kitchen together, ask them to reach items out of the cupboard. Bending, stretching, reaching are all basic movements that are necessary to maintaining a range of motion. Ask for help folding laundry and putting it away. The “excuses” you use to call your loved one into another room, or get them up and out of their chair are only limited by your imagination.
Before you know it, you might start getting a little devious in the creative ways you encourage more activity during your visit. The better you can disguise the increased activity as anything other than exercise, the more successful you’ll be!
When a loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it can be difficult to know what to talk about. Sometimes, family members will even say “I didn’t know what to talk about and it felt awkward, so I just stopped visiting.”
Rest assured, your visits mean the world to your loved one! It’s almost guaranteed that any awkwardness was felt by you, more than it was felt by them. Sometimes, just being present is enough. Just being together in the same room conveys love and caring and appreciation.
When you do try to strike up a conversation, here are a few tips that may ease the conversation.
1. Talk about right now
Comment on your surroundings—are the flowers just poking through the ground outside? Is it warm or cold out? Is it a bright sunny day or dreary and overcast? When you comment on the environment around you, you are welcoming the person with dementia to experience the environment equally. They too can comment on the weather or the temperature. They too can appreciate the view out the window of the garden or the trees or the sky. Commenting on this very moment does not require memory or complex executive functioning. Simply noticing and commenting on your five senses is a great way to stay focused on the moment at hand and invite your loved one to join you on equal footing.
2. I thought of you the other day when…
This is a great way to draw your loved one in and help them to feel connected to you and your everyday life. This simple line conveys ongoing love and caring. It gives you the opportunity to share more about what is happening in your life. You can cue your loved one with some information and it may spark a memory that otherwise may not have surfaced. When you say “I thought of you when I was driving Liam to school the other day…” you might be surprised that your loved one suddenly asks about their grandson Liam and a whole new conversation starts.
3. I was remembering the time you…
Get the storytelling rolling without asking a question. If you ask “do you remember the story you used to tell about….” It puts pressure on your loved one to remember something specific. Instead, you start the story by saying “I was remembering the story you told about…” If you see the spark of recognition, then step back and let your loved one fill in all the blanks. If they can’t recall that story in the moment, you can tell it however you best remember it and share that family moment together. Either way, you’re sharing your family history together without it feeling like a “test” that someone has to remember.
4. What is your favourite…? Do you prefer…?
If you’re going to ask a question, be sure it’s an opinion-based question. Opinions can’t be wrong! If you ask an opinion-based question of someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, you may be amazed at the robust answer you receive. Asking “did you attend bingo yesterday afternoon?” is a fact-based question. The answer is either correct or incorrect and the person with dementia can sense it. If they’re unsure of the answer, the question suddenly feels like a test. Instead say, “I see both bingo and euchre are on the schedule this week. Which do you prefer?” The opinion-based question invites your loved one to provide a personal opinion as a response. If they actually did attend bingo yesterday, you may cue their memory of attending bingo by providing information before you ask the opinion question.
5. What do you think about…?
Again, this question is an opinion based question. Ask “what do you think about…?” of things that are in the moment and do not depend upon memory or complex reasoning. Asking “what do you think about the upcoming election?” is probably not a fair question unless your loved one is a long-standing political junkie who has been following the news. Asking “what do you think about this guest on Ellen DeGeneres?” while you’re watching the show together is probably a better question. It is current and based on information from that moment only. Because it is an opinion question, it allows for a response of “I don’t know” or “nothing” and that’s perfectly fine. You may just be surprised at what does pop out though!
Don’t be afraid of having a conversation with loved ones who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
There may be times when you need to carry more of the conversation or times when you are simply sharing comfortable silence together, but there will also be times when your loved one will surprise you by sharing more opinions or memories than you expected! If you follow the 5 tips above and stay completely in the moment, provide some information to cue your loved one, and only ask opinion-based questions, you just may have more engaging conversations.
Do you ever find the holidays overwhelming? There are lights and music, decorations and crowds, shopping and cooking, parties and dinners, rich food and alcohol, late nights and busy days— sometimes it feels like you need a holiday to recover from the Christmas season!
If we feel overwhelmed during this season—and we are cognitively well, our brain is fully working—then imagine how overwhelming the holidays may be for someone who has dementia. Someone with dementia may not remember what “Christmas” or “the holidays” mean because they become abstract terms.
Here are some holiday tips to help a loved one with dementia through the holidays!
Beware of Decorations
You see an impressively life-like St. Nicholas welcoming people to your front hallway, but what does your loved one with dementia see? Is she concerned about “the man in the hallway who isn’t having dinner?” Life-like or oversized decorations can be confusing or even scary to someone with dementia. Consider from their perspective how the decorations could be misinterpreted.
Flashing lights draw a mixed response. Some people with dementia are mesmerized by flashing lights; others become alarmed or agitated. Keep consistent bright lighting in all rooms. Dark rooms with candlelight or just the tree lights may be fearful for someone with dementia.
Remove all ornaments that are not edible but look like real food. Fake gingerbread men or houses, fake candy canes or apple ornaments should all be avoided. Someone with dementia may not realize that it is just an ornament and may attempt to eat the decoration.
Have a Quiet Room
You want to include your loved one who has dementia, but you also need to provide a space where they can retreat and have some peace and quiet. People with dementia typically interact best in small groups or one-on-one. If a loved one with dementia is attending a large family gathering, set up a separate room—well lit with comfortable furniture—and recommend that family take turns visiting that person, one at a time. This allows for quality interaction in a way that best matches your loved one’s needs.
Routine is often the first casualty of the holiday season. We stay up late at night, we don’t eat meals at the usual time and we often stray from our usual, healthy diet. Remember how you felt last January after eating heavily and having your routine interrupted? Now imagine someone with dementia. The person with dementia cannot rationalize why they feel different, all they know is that something doesn’t feel right.
As much as possible, keep routine familiar and consistent. Try to maintain regular meal times (even if that means eating separately from the party), and try to limit intake of rich, sugary foods or excessive alcohol. Respect nap times and bedtimes—sleep is as important as ever! By maintaining routine as much as possible, your loved one may be able to better handle the surprises that come with the season
If family members live at a distance, they may be visiting for the first time since the last holiday season. Your loved one may have changed significantly since last holiday season. Advise family and friends in advance so that they know what to expect. Request their assistance in making the holidays easier for your loved one, and outline exactly what you need them to do. Here are some suggestions:
Please do not ask “do you know who I am?” this causes undue stress. While she may not be able to name you, grandma knows you are an important person whom she loves.
Please be aware of the fact that mom now needs to take some time away from the crowd. She finds noise and groups over-whelming. We will have a Quiet Room set up and we invite you to visit mom one at a time in the quiet room.
Please do not encourage alcohol consumption by saying “it’s only one drink!". Dad is now on a medication that does not react well to alcohol and he will not enjoy the event as much when he is trying to process the alcohol.
Set Realistic Expectations
Set realistic expectations for your loved one by limiting the number of events they attend. No more than one event or activity in a given day; only a few in a week with recovery time between events. Step back and try to asses what is realistic for your loved one. Maybe a dinner with 50 people will not be a successful event, but attending a hymn sing would better match your loved one’s preferences and current abilities.
Your loved one will not be able to suddenly do more or handle more because it is the holiday season. If anything, their coping abilities may be taxed and they may become agitated or stressed more easily than usual. Be realistic when scheduling the season.
Select the Top Priority
What is more important—that your loved one attend every event and every tradition is followed in detail, or that your loved one has a merry Christmas feeling loved and happy?
If the top priority is your loved one having a wonderful Christmas season, then focus on the elements that create that sense of joy, peace, and love for them. If you really analyze it, you’ll realize it has nothing to do with decorations or traditions. It has everything to do with family and interaction.
If you are stressed because of holiday prep, your loved one will feel that stress and not enjoy the season. A person with dementia would rather have you slow down, match their pace, and be patient than present a tray with 15 varieties of home-baked cookies that stressed you out!
Your loved one with dementia might enjoy singing a few familiar Christmas carols (because the words of those favourite tunes tend to stick), rather than feel the pressure of keeping up with an animated conversation at a cocktail event.
What will make your loved one smile? When will they seem most at peace? What will have them feeling safe, secure, and loved? Aim to focus on those elements and your loved one will have a truly blessed Christmas.
The holiday season has busy and joyful energy to it. It often feels like there’s a buzz in the air where everyone is rushing somewhere or hurrying to do something.
Many people with dementia are sensitive to the energy and emotional state of those around them. They will often pick up on this energy of hurrying and they may want to help.They’ll want to join in the activity and be part of the buzz of energy.
Human nature desires a sense of purpose.
We want to feel productive and we want to provide meaningful contributions. This sense of wanting to contribute and be helpful and productive is not impacted by many forms of dementia, so people very much want to be involved and be helpful. When someone with dementia can sense that everyone else around them is hurrying to complete tasks, they will want to join in and assist too.
If someone’s functioning level has been impacted, it may be difficult for them to contribute in the ways they did previously. In the past, your father may have gone to select a Christmas tree and cut it down himself, then tie it to the roof rack, drive home, and set the tree up. That may no longer be possible for him to do entirely on his own. Perhaps he doesn’t drive anymore; perhaps his physical strength or sense of direction is impaired.
Even though he cannot complete the task in full, is there a way that he can still be involved in the process? Can he be part of the trip to select the tree? Can he manage some of the cutting? Or hold the tree steady while a grandson saws away? Continuing to involve him in the process will be important to his sense of self-esteem and his need to feel productive.
Many forms of dementia interfere with the brain’s ability to sequence an activity.
Many tasks are actually a series of separate, smaller tasks that must be done in a particular order. Baking, for example, involves many separate tasks that are all sequenced in the right order. Perhaps your mother-in-law baked countless cookies and squares during the holiday season. Now, she makes toast and tea, but not much more. Expecting that she can bake a dozen varieties of cookies is not reasonable, but involving her in a few favourite recipes will help her to shine.
When approaching a complex task like baking, break down each step into a separate task. If there are any tasks that can be a stand-alone job, get your mother-in-law to be in charge of that step. Maybe the walnuts need to be crushed for one recipe. You can get your mother-in-law set up crushing walnuts. It may be faster to do it yourself or tempting to use the electric food processor, but the purpose isn’t to be fast and efficient.
The purpose is to involve your mother-in-law in the traditions that she founded. It’s pretty likely that she didn’t have an electric food processor when she first started baking that recipe. Breaking the walnuts by hand is likely a familiar task from years gone by and something which she can feel successful contributing.
All too often, someone with dementia will say “what can I do?” or perhaps “I don’t know what to do…” and well-meaning family members will respond “you don’t have to do anything! You just relax and sit over here.” In some cases, if someone is overstimulated and needs a break, that might be the kindest option. But in most instances, the person with dementia is genuinely reaching out and wanting to feel productive by contributing something meaningful to all that is going on around them. By finding a task that matches their ability level, you are helping to meet that fundamental human need for productivity.
Remember that the task might not be about doing. It might be more about being—being close to you, being part of the action, being a contributing family member. If many tasks are just too difficult or overwhelming, perhaps they can be involved in a being type of way.
Maybe the dog is overly excited by all of the activity and you can ask your father to hold the dog on his lap and pet the dog to keep him calm. He is being a comfort to the dog…or perhaps the dog is a comfort to him, but either way, they are both content.
Perhaps you’re wrapping presents and the roll of tape keeps disappearing under all the wrapping paper and boxes. Your mother-in-law might like to be the keeper of the tape as you’re wrapping. She’s right there with you and she’s involved in her own way. You may even get to chuckle about how you lose the tape and she’s keeping you on track.
It may take more effort on your part, and it will definitely take more time and some creativity to find tasks that match ability levels and provide meaningful contributions, but the rewards will almost certainly be worth it!
Are you hosting any holiday gatherings where you have invited elderly relatives who have health conditions? You have probably already thought about accessibility accommodations such as helping them into your home and ensuring they have access to a bathroom. Those elements are very important and should not be overlooked.
Another element that should not be overlooked is how to make the overall
environment more manageable for your elderly loved ones, especially when there are health conditions to consider.
If someone has a chronic illness such as CHF or COPD, they may fatigue very quickly and need an opportunity to rest.
If someone has edema in their feet or legs (swelling) they may need a chance to sit with their legs elevated.
A stroke survivor may find the environment overstimulating and may need relief.
Someone with dementia may need some peace and quiet and a break from the noisy environment.
Hearing aids may blur the sounds into a din so that individual voices are difficult to discern, and someone with hearing loss may need an auditory break.
To help facilitate these needs and more, you can create a Quiet Zone for your holiday gathering.
Part of the beauty of a Quiet Zone is that it can meet the needs of so many different health conditions. It is one solution that actually meets numerous needs simultaneously. It may even be appealing to younger family members too!
A Quiet Zone is a space dedicated to quieter interaction and less stimulation. Ideally, the Quiet Zone would be a separate room, but if that’s not possible, then a nook or area that can be allocated as the Quiet Zone.
The Quiet Zone should be less stimulating than the environment of the main event. If there are Christmas carols blasting on repeat in the dining room, the Quiet Zone does not have any music. If the Christmas tree in the living room has blinking lights and a miniature train set zooming past, the Quiet Room has steady, ambient lighting that isn’t distracting.
While the main event likely includes loud chatter, many people speaking at once, laughing, and loud voices to be heard over the din, the Quiet Zone is where people can have one-on-one conversations that can be more easily heard and understood. For relatives of any age, the chance to step away from the noise and engage in a more in-depth one-on-one conversation might be a welcome relief.
Someone who tires easily in a crowded room of people might appreciate the relief of settling into the Quiet Room. Other guests can then take turns, one at a time, visiting within the Quiet Room. This way, everyone is supported to be part of the family gathering, but they can participate in a way that matches their individual needs. Having a space to retreat may allow people to reserve their physical and mental energy to join the group for dinner.
The Quiet Room makes it possible to have a quick cat-nap if needed. Giving the brain an extra boost of sleep can make the difference between enjoying the rest of the event, and just feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. Family members who are stroke survivors or who have dementia will particularly appreciate the opportunity to have a power nap.
When the brain has been impacted by stroke or dementia, part of the brain may not be working the way it once did. The remaining parts of the brain are functioning on overdrive to compensate for the losses. Those over-active brain areas tire easily and benefit enormously from rest. A Quiet Room creates the space and permission to invite such guests to rest their brains when they need it most.
This holiday season, consider creating a Quiet Room for large family gatherings. The Quiet Room will be a retreat space to ensure that all your guests find the event manageable and can enjoy it fully.
Most of us can agree that the holiday season often ends up feeling frenzied and hectic. We’re fully aware of which season it is, we’re mentally prepared for the change in routine and all the additional activities and events that come with the season, and even still, we seem surprised each season that it’s frenzied and hectic.
Imagine how much more this feeling is magnified for those who have dementia.
The frenzied holiday season feeling may have different causes for you versus your loved one who has dementia, but it is important to acknowledge that the stress is still present regardless. For you, the stress may come from trying to fit too much into too little time—shopping, wrapping presents, decorating, baking, cooking traditional meals, attending extra events, etc.
You might think that someone with dementia is exempt from all this stress, and indeed, they may be blissfully unaware of some of those holiday elements. They may not have a shopping list to attend to, and they may not be worried about decorating or baking, but the holiday season can be stressful in other ways.
For someone with dementia, the ability to preplan and mentally prepare is inhibited. They are not able to reassure themselves that “this is December, and this month tends to be hectic, but it’s just temporary.”
When someone with Alzheimer’s has very limited short term memory, they will not be able to remember your explanation that the change in routine is due to the holiday season. For example, the day program they typically attend two days weekly is cancelled for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Not attending day program for a few weeks will feel disorienting. They will need constant reminders of why and how the routine has changed.
Keeping track of events and holiday gatherings may be challenging or impossible. Looking at a calendar and interpreting what is happening today versus tomorrow versus next week is quite abstract and becomes difficult when someone’s brain is impacted by dementia. A calendar is of limited use when someone has trouble remembering which day it is today. Someone with dementia may not be able to keep track of additional holiday gatherings and events.
Familiar environments suddenly look different now that decorations, trees and blinking lights have been added. For some people, decorations will feel comforting and bring memories of holiday seasons of the past. For others, the sudden change in their familiar environment may feel disorienting.
Likewise, large gatherings can have a disorienting effect. Even when it’s gatherings of family and friends, large groups can be overwhelming for some people. Too many of these gatherings over a short time period can increase someone’s stress level.
People with dementia are often highly sensitive to the emotions of others around them.
If you are highly stressed or feeling frenzied, they will pick up on that emotion and respond to it. If the context is not entirely clear to the person with dementia, they may even conclude that you are stressed or frenzied because of them.
While your loved one may not be keeping track of the shopping list and cooking for the family gathering, they are still experiencing the holiday frenzy, just differently than you are. Be aware of what may be contributing to their stress or disorientation and try to reduce those factors as much as possible. Since you do have the ability to pre-plan, you can mentally prepare yourself for the holiday season knowing that your loved one may have stronger or different reactions than usual because of disrupted routine or change to their environment. Just being prepared for different behaviours, reactions, or functioning levels can make a huge difference.
For more tips on how to support someone with dementia through the holiday season, please click here.