by guest columnist Teresa Youngstrom
For many of us, the holidays are meant to be a time of joy and celebration with friends and family. We make plans, set dates, arrange to travel or accommodate out-of-town guests. There are menus to select, traditions to maintain, decorations to show off and gifts to wrap.
It seems just when all this is happening, and we may need to walk out the door RIGHT NOW, someone with memory loss needs extra time or interrupts with what we see as an off-the-wall idea or unreasonable need.
Wait a minute-there’s no time for this! Can’t you see everything I have going on right now?
The answer may surprise you. Remember, Dementia means brain failure, so they have little ability to change the way their disease is moving. What if they are actually doing the best they can, with the memory or brain power they have left?
There are things we can do to accommodate a person living with Dementia. We can manage their environment by trying to keep them in a friendly and familiar setting. We can be curious about what is upsetting them and use our assessment skills to consider what is going on from their point of view. We can ask them how they’re feeling. We can put a pause on our agenda to better serve their needs or suggest they take a nap to help them cope with a tired and declining brain.
There are, unfortunately, things over which we have no control. The brain is always changing, and we do not have the ability to slow the rate at which brain cells are dying once a diagnosis of some type of Dementia is given. Many people who are diagnosed with a brain disorder have lived long enough to establish medical histories, have well-developed likes and dislikes and maintain strong personality traits. Once a brain disorder diagnosis is given, those traits can be significantly changed by their condition and the caregiver must learn to discern and work with those changes.
Let’s stick to what we know and position ourselves and our loved ones for a win during the holidays. That may mean having a family meeting to encourage support. Perhaps we can think smaller, not larger, and plan to be in a familiar place during their best time of the day.
For many with Dementia, midday is a good time for them – they are alert and can be less agitated. Consider a couple of smaller gatherings around the noon hour. During those gatherings, you can assign someone to the person living with dementia to monitor them and serve their needs. Stay tuned in to head off big upsets and accommodate their needs with the extra patience and the love they deserve.
We may need to be prepared to go with “plan B” or even not at all if the situation changes or someone becomes upset. Apologize and take a humble position when the wheels fall off our plans. We may need to just let it go in order to save the relationship.
And don’t forget to find ways to take care of yourself, too. It’s hard to do, but it’s crucial to reach out for help and accept you cannot be everything to another person. You are important too, so don’t make the holidays a time to resent or regret. Instead, plan to adjust your activities to serve both of your needs with compromise and realistic goals. They need you, true, but you need time for yourself to continue the journey with good health and a happy attitude.
I encourage you to use these tips and maybe – just maybe – the holidays will be brighter for it!
Teresa Youngstrom is a seasoned Registered Nurse with more than 35 years of experience in many areas of health care including hospital, home care, hospice. She is a Dementia specialist and the founder of A Better Approach to Memory Care. Teresa provides staff training, first responder training, private family consultation, and professional speaking services. She has been a guest speaker at Council on Aging’s Forum on Aging conference.