This is a picture of my maternal grandmother, Eula Cothran, whom we called ” Mom.” We didn’t lose her to dementia. We lost her to cancer, but on the day she died, Mom prepared a huge holiday dinner for the entire family. What a woman!
The holidays bring great joy, but for a caregiver who supports a loved one with dementia, this time can also bring great sorrow. Memories of “how it used to be” crash into the reality of the loss standing in front of you. Your loved one is not the same, so nothing can be the same, but “different” can still be happy. Make new memories with these five steps:
SHIELD THE SENIOR FROM CHAOS
People with dementia can’t cope with information that confronts them too quickly, in large amounts, or at the same time. Even if the noises are happy, crowds of loud people who aren’t usually around, packs of exuberant kids, and changes in routine can cause an elder to melt down. It isn’t fair to put a damper on everybody’s joy, but you don’t want to let agitation ruin the gathering. Designate someone to be on “Mom-duty,” watching for signs of overload, moving her to a quiet, comfortable, familiar place (like her room,) and helping her with a quiet activity ( watching her favorite TV show, folding laundry, snapping string beans.) It’s not fair to make a family member miss the whole celebration, so put together a schedule that gives several members a period of “Dad- watch, or” hire a familiar helper for the most hectic preparation hours, or during dinner.
RESPECT THE ROUTINE
As much as you can, keep to the senior’s schedule: meals, TV shows, medicines, bath, naps, and bedtime. If the holiday dinner is at 6 and the senior usually eats at 4, feed her on time in a quiet area (maybe a tray in her room with a companion). She can still sit with everyone at dinner, but with less chance of agitation because of hunger that she cannot process.
KEEP IT SIMPLE, AND DESIGNATE.
“That’s the way Mom always did it” doesn’t work if only YOU are doing it. Do you have to have peach cobbler, sweet potato pie, AND Sock-it-to Me Cake? Must there be turkey, ham, AND a roast, and do you have to do everything? If you don’t want to cater, simplify the menu, or trust your sister’s macaroni and cheese, make your signature dishes and ask others to bring the rest.
TAKE CARE OF THE CAREGIVER.
It’s easy to use exhausting activity to cover your grief about “how it used to be,” but invisible stress will erode your energy. Respect that grief and give yourself room to heal. Carve out time to be with friends, get a manicure, or just sit. Again, this is a time to ask family, neighbors, or friends to lend a hand, or hire a few hours of help.
ACCEPT THAT YOU DESERVE A BREAK, AND BE NICE!
When you were growing up, and Mom told you to do something, there was no fight, right? She gave the word and everybody fell in line. You have to be comfortable, demonstrating the same confidence Mom had in being “Big Mama.” Believe that you deserve a holiday that doesn’t kill you. Family may be used to you doing everything and some may even object, but fighting about it defeats your purpose. You can fake Mom’s confidence until you feel it (-: Smile and say “this is how we’re doing it this year.” Accept that you deserve the break; don’t get pulled into any fights, and they WILL fall in line.
No, it won’t be the same, but if you make it so, the holidays can be happy and full of new memories that you won’t be too tired to enjoy.
Tune in to future blogs
Wisdom on Wednesday Guest Blog from T.J. King “The Money Mama” on Financing Longterm Care
Informational Thoughts on Thursday: Treating Dementia
All through December, I’ll share tips on Getting Through the EATING Season, with easy and healthier menus.