7 Holiday Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Alz awarenessHow should we deal with our Alzheimer’s loved one during the holidays?

The calendar reminds us that we are deep into the holiday season. Our waistlines are expanding and the stresses of family dynamics emotionally stretch us.

As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful for another year – we also have to remember how stressful this time can be – especially for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

So here are seven tips to remember as we move into the holidays:

Don’t expect a dementia or Alzheimer’s loved one to make any food.

One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe so she would feel like she was part of the festivities.

But as we watched her struggle to find pots and pans, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad – hundreds of times over – we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

Even if she has a favorite recipe and everyone still enjoys her marshmallow salad or her french silk pie, relieving her of the stress can be a gift.

If your loved one wants to shop for gifts, plan ahead for this adventure.

Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to get in and out of the stores. Forget about Black Friday shopping – too many people, too much noise and parking places are limited.

Be patient, take plenty of time and be prepared to answer lots of questions. If possible, buy everything in one store. Then go home.

Better yet, sit down with a laptop and show your loved one the pictures. Then order everything online.

Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

Even though her appetite is changing, Mom will want her annual piece of pecan pie. So one of my holiday duties is to buy a premade pecan pie and through the years, I have found the best ones in the frozen section at Target.

When we first walk into the farm kitchen, Mom’s eyes always go to the dessert table. She may not say anything, but I know what she’s looking for.

I brought your pecan pie, Mom, and the first piece goes to you.” Then I dress it with a generous dollop of Cool Whip.

Every year, Mom says, “I DO love pecan pie.” I dread the day when she forgets how to say this one, grateful sentence.

Do an activity together, such as looking through the Christmas cards.

Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those traditions celebrated in the past, my mother’s demographic still considers it a holiday courtesy. She loves receiving her cards.

Remind your loved one who the senders are or tell a favorite story about the person behind the return address.

Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. That’s okay. It’s part of the Alzheimer’s process, and someday – you’ll be glad you took the time to do this.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, be sure to check back in before dark.

Driving through some beautifully-lit neighborhoods was once a favorite activity. But this idea depends on the level of Alzheimer’s where your loved one exists.

Mom feels uncomfortable outside of assisted living in the dark. Looking at the lights is no longer one of our seasonal pleasures.

As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowner’s Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety.

They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so make sure you time your meals and your activities accordingly.

If you are traveling for the holidays, it is usually not a good idea to include your Alzheimer’s loved one.

Although we all want to be together during the holidays, that pleasure becomes less and less tangible. Traveling out of their comfort zone is difficult for Alzheimer’s patients: several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.

It makes more sense to hire a caregiver and let your loved one stay home while you join the rest of the family.

Fight against the false guilt that says you can’t leave for a day or two. Yes, you can. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to make it through the marathon of caregiving. So take a break and drive away to be with your family.

What should you buy for the Alzheimer’s patient?

None of us needs more junk, least of all an Alzheimer’s patient who is living in a studio apartment at assisted living. Keep it simple.

A stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a picture of family members with their childhood photos inserted next to the adult photos, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.

One Christmas, I gave Mom a wooden cross, made in New Mexico and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. She seemed most excited about the mints although the cross was a nice adornment on her wall.

This year I’m giving Mom a hug and a kiss, knowing that next Christmas may be completely different. This year – she still knows who I am, and I am grateful.

Next year – maybe not.

©2016 RJ Thesman, Author of the Reverend G Trilogy http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

Hanging On To Hope

As the Kansas winter blustered through my yard, I noticed a unique snapshot of the season.leaf - hanging on

Although all the other leaves had already let loose and dropped to the ground, one leaf still hung on.

In spite of the wind, the calendar day and its length of life – a lone leaf clung tightly to the branch that had given it life.

It didn’t take long to wrap my heart around the analogy and honor thousands of saints who continue to cling tightly to their true source of life.

They persevere in spite of the calendar days that scream, “You should have given up already.”

They hang on in spite of the circumstances of life or the opinions of others or even of well-meaning friends who speak cruelty.

These are people who inspire me to persevere as well:

  • The single mom who drives her children to church even though she has been shunned because she’s divorced
  • The writer who revises the same manuscript seven times until every word is as good as it can possibly be – then ignores another rejection to revise it again
  • The cancer patient who refuses to be a victim but spends her time during brutal radiation treatments, praying through her list of friends and family
  • The nonprofit organizations who operate on a financial shoestring and trust God to provide resources each and every day
  • The missionaries who continue to serve even when their prayers don’t merge with the answers they long to see

Persevering folks who keep hanging on to hope even when everything in life attacks them.


Brave and vulnerable caregivers who keep serving even when the days are 36 hours long.

Mothers who keep praying for their prodigals. Fathers who work jobs they hate so their children won’t go hungry. Christians who refuse to deny Christ even though faced with the wrath of a radical Muslim sect.

The power of those who persevere is modeled at the end of Hebrews 11 – saints who refused to be released from torturous prisons, faced rejection and persecution, were destitute and mistreated. They did not receive what they were promised but they hung on anyway. They persevered and “the world was not worthy of them.”

What is required to continue in hope when everyone else has let loose and fallen around us?

Courage and the grace to keep hanging on to the One who empowers us with resurrection life.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

Finding Hope at Christmas

Especially at Christmas, caregivers and families feel the sting of Alzheimer’s and dementia. We hang ornaments and remember past Decembers when our loved ones decorated the tree, sang Christmas carols and laughed while opening presents.christmas_baubles_and_candles

Smells from the kitchen spike memories of Christmas cookies, cinnamon and nutmeg, that special family recipe for peppernuts.

Yet now – everything has changed. Our loved one sits quietly in a chair, unaware of smells and colorful lights, breathing in and out, communicating with no one.

It is the passage of time and the ache of what this disease can do.

Somehow, we must look for joy by searching for its source.

Think back on Christmases past and be grateful for the memories and the legacy preserved within family.

Treasure the presence of your loved one, even though he or she seems mentally far away.

Remember that Christmas is about a baby in a manger who became the Savior on the cross. Someday, in eternity, all Alzheimer’s genes will be nonexistent. No disease there. No memory loss. No sadness.

Be grateful for these moments together, because you, too, are creating a legacy for the generations to come.

Sing a Christmas carol together. Music connections are the last part of the brain to die. You can still communicate with your loved one through music.

With all the excitement and chaos of opening presents, be alert for anxiety in your loved one. He or she may need to return to assisted living long before all the Christmas activities are finished.

Find your own joy in being with family. Each day is a gift. Each time we get together, we make memories. Even if the day is difficult for you, treasure it.

Several years ago, my sister Kris – who is a talented poet – wrote these words:


            “While striding on life’s pathway, fill up your days with cheer

Just laugh at rainbows, small or great, to banish every fear.

Hold tight to what life offers, content with all you do

For all adventures help create the treasure that is you.”


Remember that seasons end, and the season of Alzheimer’s will also end with the death of your loved one. So try to enjoy your time together and know that somewhere deep inside, Mom or Dad, Sister or Brother dearly loves you and wishes you a Merry Christmas.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

 

CrossRiver Media Author Hunt – Stop # 1

Welcome to Stop # 1 on the CrossRiver Author HuntCR Author Hunt Pic

After you read my blog post I wrote just for you today, feel free to peruse my site and get to know me a bit, then enter the giveaway at the bottom of the blog post. Join my email list at www.RJThesman.net  and answer the question I’ll give you below and you will receive a PDF of the “7 Tips for Caregivers.”

Before you head over to the next stop, collect the clue at the bottom of the post. You’ll need it to enter the drawing for CrossRiver Media’s giveaway.

Grand Prize:

One winner will receive a Kindle, loaded with CrossRiver books! The winner will be chosen randomly from among those who enter the correct phrase.

Other Prizes:

Four winners will receive hard copies of 3 different CrossRiver books, signed by the author !


My blog started several years ago as a way to encourage people who were going through a tough time. Then my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the life of our family changed.

As I blogged through my feelings, my blog became a bit more focused on providing encouragement to caregivers. But all of my original readers weren’t dealing with Alzheimer’s, so I decided to focus on the topic of “Finding Hope When Life Unravels.”

You’ll find posts about Alzheimer’s here as well as other encouragements and some of my own personal journey.

During November, which is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, I’m posting about the topic: “What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do.”

I hope you’ll join me here and sign up for my monthly newsletter which features my writing life and my speaking events centered around the Reverend G trilogy. These novels are published by CrossRiver Media and include:

For my part in this Scavenger Hunt, I would love to send you a PDF version of the “7 Tips for Caregivers.” This is one of my speaking topics and an example of something you could share with a caregiver.

So how do you get this informative PDF? Sign up for my newsletter at www.RJThesman.net.

Then…in the comments section of this post, answer this question: How do you encourage caregivers, especially those who deal with an Alzheimer’s patient?

If you already subscribe to my newsletter, make a note in your comment. After the CrossRiver Author Hunt, I will be sending out a special edition of my newsletter, containing the  free PDF for all those who leave a comment.


 Thank you for stopping by during the CrossRiver Author Hunt!

Before you go to the next stop, collect your clue below. You’ll need this to enter the giveaway on the CrossRiver website.

“God”

Next stop on the CrossRiver Author Hunt: MelodyBalthaser.com

Have you stumbled onto the Author Hunt or forgotten what you’re supposed to do next?

  • Visit every author’s site that is part of the hunt
  • Collect the clue provided at each author blog
  • Sign up for each author’s email list / newsletter for extra chances at fun giveaways
  • Stop back at the CrossRiver Media’s website after you visit the last blog in the hunt and enter your clues for a chance to win the grand prize
  • Click here for a complete list of the rules

Happy Hunting!

When Humor Eases the Alzheimer’s Journey

When our children are little, we keep a journal of their cute sayings, their trials with language and their funny mistakes. We laugh and share these moments with grandparents and any friends who will listen.smiley faces

When our parents become children because of plaque-laden Alzheimer’s, we still laugh at their funny stories. These moments aren’t as cute at age 80+, but laughter provides the necessary impetus to make it through another care-giving day.

So when I share the funny things Mom has done, I’m not mocking her or making fun of her. I hope to encourage other caregivers, to share a common bond and to keep humor as one of our coping mechanisms.

Last week, Mom lost her bobby pins. Although she is scheduled for the salon each week, she still fixes her hair every night with tiny curls held in place with bobby pins.

But now, her bobby pins are gone and Mom is convinced they were stolen. “People come into my room at night. And while I’m sleeping, they steal my bobby pins off my head.”

I don’t know why Mom thinks bobby-pin fairies need her particular bobby pins, but when things mysteriously disappear – she always believes someone has stolen them.

The issue of losing possessions and accusing others of theft appears in the Reverend G books. Follow the story and find out how Reverend G’s son deals with the disappearing / stolen angels. http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

The bobby pin story kept us laughing for a while, until Mom lost her bridge and the teeth attached to it. In spite of an application of extra cement by the dentist, Mom managed to loosen her bridge, yank it out of her mouth and then lose it.

Again, she was convinced, “Someone stole my teeth.”

My sister asked, “Why would someone steal your teeth? What would they do with them?”

Always ready with an answer, Mom said, “They could take them to the dentist and trade my bridge for their new teeth.”

The visual flashed through my mind of an older woman carrying a plastic sack filled with stolen teeth. She walks into the dentist’s office and asks, “How much will you give me for these? I need dentures and I’m trying to save money.”

It sort of gives a new significance to the tooth fairy.

©2015 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

3 Levels of Alzheimer’s

Until I started researching and living Alzheimer’s with my mom – nobody told me about the three levels of this disease. But I’ve seen them again and again as I’ve talked with other caregivers and observed my mom.Alz awareness

Level One: Your loved one begins to realize something isn’t quite right. He forgets where he parked the car. She forgets how to brush her teeth. They can’t count or say the alphabet. This is the level where Reverend G forgot part of the Lord’s Prayer. http://amzn.to/11QATC1

They begin to use coping mechanisms to help themselves remember. My mother parked in the exact same parking space every time she went to the grocery store. That’s how she remembered where her car was. She pinned her house keys to the inside of her slacks so that she was never locked out of her house because she couldn’t find her keys.

In Level One, the Alzheimer’s patient is afraid and usually keeps this fear a secret. During this time, the rest of the family needs to begin making some difficult decisions.

Level Two: I call Level Two, the intermission. This is the level where the Alzheimer’s medicines begin to work, where the loved one is more content, where everything seems to be okay – for a little while. None of the levels have a time frame because every patient reacts differently. Your loved one still remembers you and may be able to take care of herself, especially within the protective confines of assisted living.

During “Intermission for Reverend G” http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo, we see a love story, the residents play Bingo and converse fairly easily with each other although confusion still reigns.

Level Three: The Alzheimer’s patient begins to move into the final stages. He will probably forget his family members; she may forget how to speak and how to eat. For the patients, this is not nearly as stressful as Level One, because they don’t care anymore and don’t even know what they’re doing.

This is the most difficult level for the caregiver. Mom or Dad have now become infants, wearing diapers, needing to be fed and dressed. We grieve every day and beg God to take them home.

No matter what level your loved one is in right now, the important point is to take care of yourself, love them however you can and know that someday – no one knows when – someday this Alzheimer’s journey will end.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Does God Care About Characters?

We sat around the table at the house where my critique group met. Each of us took our turn, reading our precious words and waiting for responses from the other writers.

Intermission 3D Cover-1I knew my group liked my main character – Reverend G, that feisty little minister who struggles to find her purpose within the shadows of Alzheimer’s. But what about the writing itself? What about the content, the plots and the dialogue? Did I do it well enough to intrigue my readers?

I truly wanted to know how to make the book the best it could be. Caregivers needed it to be credible and practical yet also entertaining. The readers who followed the story during Book One deserved a Book Two that would interest them, draw out humor and pathos — a belief in the story.

I wanted my readers to believe that a fictional tale might be real.

So I waited for the critique of my words with anticipation. The man of the house, who is also a writer, suddenly appeared from another room and started to climb the stairs. As if he echoed instruction from the divine source, he said, “Make the Alzheimer’s a character.”

It was one of those moments in life when you know God has sent a prophetic message through another traveler. When you not only appreciate the message but you know that message must be obeyed.

When you feel that jolt of supernatural electricity that helps you believe God is present.

And so I rewrote the book. And as I recrafted each paragraph, I saw how right it was to make the Alzheimer’s a character. I experienced with my dear Reverend G how real this disease is and how it torments the mind.

My mother lives with this disease and daily fights the fear of losing her hold on memories and people. I imagine my mother, just like Reverend G, talks back to the Alzheimer’s and fights it with every mental muscle she can summon.

How right it was to add the Alzheimer’s as an antagonist who attacks beloved Reverend G and forces her to mentally and emotionally battle with an invisible yet imperative force.

Does God care about our characters? As surely as he designs the written word and breathes its creative nuances through writers. He wants this story to be an encouragement to caregivers and to remind us all that even when memory fails, God still abides within us.

So I thank that writer for being the voice of an idea, and I thank my critique group for helping me polish the manuscript.

I also thank the Holy Spirit who birthed this series in the first place and continues to pave the way for the story of Reverend G.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1