Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas--(pt. 2)

Family time over the holidays can be fun and exhilarating--the stuff of which memories are made.

Family time over the holidays can be a disaster, a bad dream, and the birthplace of hurt feelings and misunderstanding.

All this can happen in the best of families. In the same family. Over the same holiday season.

If you are the care partner of someone with dementia, you'll need to figure out how to handle celebrations and family times together. A lot of changes occur in a year, and what worked last year probably won't be the best plan this year.

Way # 3 Communicate

The holiday season brings people together who might not have been with your loved one for some time. The daughter who lives out of town may phone, email or text every day, and you don't feel that she's out of touch. She talks to her dad regularly. The fact is, she hasn't been in the same room with him for months, and her children have grown and may be surprised and unnerved by changes in their papa. And she's one of the closer ones. Cousin Erwin and his wife, or your brother from down south are even more removed.

My default is always to do nothing and "see how it goes." Chances are, it won't go well, so resist the temptation to do nothing. Think back to who your elder was a year ago, or the last time most of the group attending spent time with him. How has he changed? Has his speech become more difficult to understand? How about his mobility? Did he need incontinent products a year ago? Did he have trouble using utensils when he ate? Make a list, including any stressors that you might not see every day, but which might be a problem in a group. Does the noise of children playing bother him? Does he tire easily?

Here's another point of communication: Have you always hosted Christmas for your family? As much as you may love the preparation and the cooking, it may be too much to do when you are looking out for your loved one. Do you have the courage to tell them? Or maybe you've always travelled to cousin Jimmy's house, but you know a car ride, even if just a few hours, will cause exhaustion and stress. Perhaps your elder won't remember the house and will want to leave the moment you get there. Consider what might work best for them, and have a frank talk with your loved ones.

Way #4 Teaching

Trying to teach your family and friends might seem patronizing, but it's fact that many people are nervous and afraid around people with dementia. They don't know how to talk to them or how to respond to some of the unusual conversations that can happen.

Here's an idea. Prepare a simple one sheet with some basics. Write it in the first person as if your elder was speaking to them directly. Here is a sample:

I'm so glad we are getting together for Christmas. My family is important to me, even when I can't remember who you are or where you belong in the family. You are my family and that makes you special. 

I like to think I have dementia but it doesn't have me, so I wanted to share some things that will help make our time more fun. 

Don't be insulted if I don't know your name, but don't try to get me to remember, either. Introduce yourself each time we meet, and tell me your relationship to me. 

I love to reminisce, but don't start with 'Do you remember?' because I don't. Try saying things like, 'I remember when you used to push me on the swing.' Even if I don't remember, I'll be happy that you do.

Don't be insulted if I lie down part way through our visit. As much as I love to be with you, it exhausts me. I'll come back in a short while. 

Christmas things I enjoy are staring at the lights and the fireplace, and singing carols. Surprisingly, I remember a lot of the words. These are great activities to do together. 

I cry easily, which is embarrassing for me but not something I can control. Don't get upset. Like a surprise rain shower, it's quickly gone and I've forgotten it.

Show me lots of affection. I understand 'I love you' best through a hug.

Merry Christmas,

Of course, you will customize it, but something like this will go a long way to fostering understanding. Send it by email with a note of explanation. Likely you will get feedback in the form of more questions, which can open a healthy discussion and bring understanding.

Care Partner Wednesday--The 12 Ways of Christmas (pt. 2)

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