Holiday tips for caregivers and those with dementia

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"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"

- Lee Iacocca

I have never been one to worry about the holidays. I just want to enjoy time with friends and family. I want to enjoy the special music the holiday season offers, the parades, the decorations, just the sweet feeling the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas offers.

Everyone seems to be a bit happier, almost giddy. This can be a magical season for caregivers to share with their loved ones if they allow themselves to relax and take advantage of the beauty of the season.

I hope this list of tips will help you ease into the holiday season, have a heart full of love, and be grateful for what you have now, in this very moment.

Tips for the person with dementia:

  • Take time out to relax.
  • Watch or listen to old, familiar music, movies and TV programs that make you feel good.
  • Make a list with your partner of what you would like to do this season.
  • Use a list to stay on track.

Tips for the care partner:

  • Consider cutting back on traditions if they seem distressing.
  • Keep gatherings smaller and visits shorter, but try not to isolate.
  • Encourage friends and family to visit, even if it is difficult. If someone is a true friend he will make the effort to understand the disease and make adjustments.
  • As a caregiver you might want to send a brief letter to friends who are coming to visit explaining that things have changed. For example: "Please understand that John might not remember you and might confuse you with someone else. Don't be offended. He appreciates your being with us, and so do I."
  • Ask visitors to bring old pictures, old familiar props, and be prepared to reminisce about old times. If friends are prepared, they will feel comfortable and not force conversations your loved one might not be able to follow.
  • Set your own limits, and be clear about them with others. You do not have to live up to the expectations of friends and relatives. Your situation is different now.

Gift ideas:

Consider safe and useful gifts such as comfortable clothing, audiotapes of favorite music, videos or photo albums. How about arranging for a cleaning service or offer to provide respite care? Maybe arrange for a dinner delivery once a month. Think of ways that would take some of the everyday burden of caregiving off the caregiver.

Take care of yourself. Smile often. Look for the good in people. Enjoy the simple things, because in the end, what matters is the time with friends and family. If you need support call Memory Matters at 843-842-6688.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org

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