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

 

 

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What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 3

Alzheimer’s cannot destroy our family ties.family quote

Dad was an introvert while Mom was the talker. They made a great team and even though Mom’s personality stays intact, she seems a bit more closed off since her beloved Hank graduated to heaven.

Yet … our family remains strong and devoted to one another. Mom is still and always will be the matriarch.

She comes from a long line of matriarchal women who raised their children with leather belts and switches from the trees. Women who knew how to kill a chicken, then strip its feathers and fry it to a golden brown.

Women who worked a job outside of home, shopped for the harvest crew and put a huge meal on the table so that hungry men found sustenance. Then woke early the next morning and did it all over again.

Women who fiercely protected their children, used every resource available and saved enough money so their kids could attend college without going into debt.

During this holiday season, we will drive Mom to the same farm where she raised us. I will buy a pecan pie and Cool Whip so she can have her favorite Thanksgiving treat.

She will sit at the table and occasionally speak. When she does, we will listen – even if it doesn’t quite make sense. Because she is the Mom, the grandmother and now – the great-grandmother.

And sometimes, as she sits in the recliner beside the fire, I will catch her with a look on her face and wonder, What is she thinking?

Is she homesick for heaven? Probably. Is she missing her husband, her mother, her grandmothers who taught her so much? Certainly.

Is she remembering those days when she fixed the entire Thanksgiving meal, then organized the clean-up crew, saved all the leftovers and planned how she would make the budget stretch so that every child had a special gift on Christmas? I would bet so.

And sometimes – in the glow from the fire – I see in her the features of all the matriarchs before her and I know Alzheimer’s can never destroy those family ties.

That same strength has been shared with my siblings and I. We have attempted to pass it on to our children so that faith, determination and perseverance never diminishes throughout our generations.

In the Mennonite church, we used to sing, “Blessed be the tie that binds, our hearts in Christian love.” As I observe my mother throughout these waning years of her life, those family ties keep us bound together.

This brutal disease of Alzheimer’s can never destroy those ties.

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

7 Holiday Tips for Dealing with Alzheimer’s

How should we best handle the holidays when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease?Alz awareness

The calendar reminds us that Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away and soon after comes Christmas. As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be thankful – 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.

Last year, 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.

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.

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

Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

My mom will want pecan pie. None of the cooks in our family makes a decent pecan pie. So we’re planning to buy one and cut the first piece for Mom.

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

Remind your loved one who the people are or tell a favorite story about the person who sent the card.

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.

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.

Traveling out of their comfort zone is difficult with 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.

What should you buy for the Alzheimer’s patient?

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.

This Christmas, I’m giving Mom a pretty cross, made in New Mexico and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. Shh…don’t tell her!

I’m also giving her 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.

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

 

 

Hope Within Relationship

Sitcoms and movies often vilify the role of the mother-in-law as in “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Monster-In-Law.”

LeoraBut in my situation, that stereotype never materialized. I was not at odds with my mother-in-law. Although we disagreed on politics and how to raise children; we found common ground in our respect for small towns, the Oklahoma Sooners football program and the joy of music.

We shared a love for flowers and jewelry. She was the one who taught me how to care for mums, how to prune them in the spring, then rejoice with the harvest of autumn blooms.

We both enjoyed bling and the challenge of finding perfect accessories for every outfit. I own several pieces of jewelry she gave me and wear them often with her in mind.

She was also the one who tried to show me how to make the perfect pecan pie. But no matter how many times I tried – with her exact recipe – I could never master it. Instead, I saved my calories for the annual Thanksgiving feast and relished every bite of her buttery, rich version.

I sent her cards on her birthday and holidays. She did the same for me, always writing in tiny script at the bottom, “I still love you.” I saved all those cards.

A few months ago, while visiting my own mother, I felt that inner nudge to go see my mother-in-law. I have learned to obey that divine whisper, knowing that God sees the future and asks us to respond in the present.

So I spent several hours with her, saddened by her increasing fragility and the slight aphasia that often interrupted her speech.

Yet we were content to merely sit together, to just be as two women who shared the same last name and the faith that bound us in eternal relationship.

She ate lunch, and I helped cut her meat, arranging the various bowls on her tray to make it easier for her to reach them. She told me she wanted dessert, so I searched for a piece of – you guessed it – pecan pie. I joyed in watching her devour it.

She told me she wanted to live to be 90. “Why 90?” I asked?

“It’s a good number,” she said.

When I left, I kissed her goodbye and said, “I love you.”

She responded, “I love you, too.”

God knew the expanse of her timeline and at 87 years, this past week, she stepped out of her shell and scurried into eternity.

I felt grateful during her memorial service, knowing she would have loved the flowers that surrounded her casket and the way her jewelry accessorized her beautiful red dress.

Even though my heart already missed her, my soul rejoiced that she no longer needed a walker or a cane, no longer wanted for anything.

In spite of the sitcoms and the movies, I know I was lucky to have such a relationship with my mother-in-law. I cherish the memories of strolls through her garden, preparing meals together in her kitchen and one last goodbye.

I love you, Leora. See you on the other side.

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

Discovering the Saints in Assisted Living

When I visited my mother-in-law at her assisted living, we talked about the passing of seasons. Besides the obvious winter season of November and Thanksgiving, we discussed the particular seasons of life.old woman

Her season now includes living in the beautiful and secure setting of assisted living where she is surrounded by those who help her remember when lunch is served and when it is time to visit the hair salon.

Her nails have grown long and are carefully manicured because her daughters make sure she receives that treat. I remember her as the hard-working housewife during a previous season, puttering around her kitchen with brittle fingernails thrust into dishwater several times a day.

But life is different now. She has no dishes to wash and no floors to scrub, so she grows her nails long and chooses any color she likes for the nail tech who paints them. I am glad for her this tiny yet significant joy.

I accompany her to lunch and as we visit, I see the faces of my past. The father of one of my high school friends holds himself erect even as he slowly makes his way to the lunch buffet. I remember the quiet dignity of this aging saint, the way he encouraged us to sing and pray and trust. His hair, once a flaming red, now reflects over 80 years of pigment change while wrinkles line the face that once smiled at us from a left side pew, half-way down in the sanctuary.

Another gentleman recognizes me and I him. He once worked the land even as my father did. I remember one harvest when my family had to leave the fields to attend the funeral of my uncle.

While we were gone, this farmer gathered his family together, left his own fields untended and cut our family’s wheat. A necessary kindness that farmers often presented to their neighbors – a way to pay it forward. They knew we would reciprocate if they ever needed the same kindness.

This man stands before me and explains that his Thanksgiving this year was sad. A second son has preceded him to heaven – the backwards motion of life that tragically surprises, reminding us there are no guarantees no matter what our age. Each day is precious and can never be retrieved.

I understand the grief behind his eyes, yet he still smiles – a reminder that our shared faith reaches much farther than the cemetery.

Another saint eats in the dining room, and I recognize the gracious woman who once served in various hospitality ministries. She is now confined to a wheelchair and the daughter who tends her wears the same smile, bearing resemblance not only to the physical family traits but also to the holy inhabitant within.

My mother-in-law finishes her lunch, and I manage to snag a piece of pecan pie for her, remembering her own pecan pies during past seasons. I could never replicate her pecan pie, even when I explicitly followed the recipe.

The seasons of the past flow around me in the aging faces of faith – these elders who passed on to a young girl the importance of church attendance and scripture memory, the joy of interceding for each other as we responded in worship together.

I feel gratitude for the examples of these saints, these living images of the Hebrews 11 heroes who whispered advice through the ages. These are the folks who now wait out their timelines in assisted living while I continue in the ministry of my current season.

One season blends into another and each season is affected by the weather of the previous, just as the faith behaviors of these aged saints once affected me.

I can only hope that my life is also a favorable influence on the generations younger than I who may someday visit me in the winter season of my life.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

7 Holiday Tips for Dealing with Alzheimer’s

How should we deal with our Alzheimer’s loved one during the holidays?turkey candle

The calendar reminds us that Thanksgiving is only a week away and soon after comes Christmas. As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be thankful – 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.

For the last few years, 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.

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.

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

      Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.

My mom will want pecan pie. None of the cooks in our family makes a decent pecan pie. So we’re planning to buy one and cut the first piece for Mom.

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

Remind your loved one who the people are or tell a favorite story about the person who sent the card.

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.

            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.

Traveling out of their comfort zone is difficult: 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.

               What to buy for the Alzheimer’s patient?

A stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a nice 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.

This Christmas, I’m giving Mom a pretty cross, made in New Mexico and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. Shh…don’t tell her!

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

Next year – maybe not.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1