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Holidays

Best Holiday Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s

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Tips from 12 Caregiving Pros

(plus bonus tips for family caregiver gifts)

Shiny red satin ribbon on white backgroundFamilies always ask us what Mom or Dad would most enjoy as a holiday gift.

We have our favorites. For this post, we sought the advice of other seasoned caregivers, too. Here are the gifts we suggest for people with Alzheimer’s. (You’ll find most also are great for other older adults.)

 

The Best Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s Appeal to their Senses

Our experts all recommend gifts that look, taste, smell, sound or feel good.

Most people love the aroma of fresh-baked cookies or the relief of soothing lotion.

Someone with Alzheimer’s is especially sensitive to stimulation. A favorite song, fragrance or fabric stirs more memories and feelings than conversation.

Think of your loved ones’ happiest days. Were they spent resting on a soft picnic blanket, or bundled in Grandma’s afghan? Smiling with grandchildren? Sucking on a butterscotch candy, or sipping a favorite tea? What music and scents wafted through the air?

Bring back these sensations to brighten a long, grey day.

 

From Expert #1: Deonisia Hernandez
House Manager & Caregiver
Care Haven Homes’ Broadmoor house

People of all ages love lots of little holiday surprises. Bring a small treat every time you visit. Share favorite candies or cookies. Give a mini bottle of lotion, and then massage Mom’s hands. Leave her with a new tube of lip balm, non-skid slipper socks or a pair of warm gloves.

(“Nonskid” is essential. If socks are too bulky to wear with shoes, be sure they have a gripping surface on the bottom of the foot.)

 

Enjoying a feline friendship

From Expert #2: Sharon Springer
Activities Assistant
Care Haven Homes

Make Mom and Dad FEEL good. Give soft, flannel pillowcases and fuzzy blankets.

It’s a great time for fun flavors, too. Give a holiday pack of Lifesavers or flavored lip balm. Don’t forget that crowd favorite: the popcorn gift tin.

(But don’t leave a big basket of fruit, jellies or other “spoilables” in your loved ones’ room. Bring just enough for the two of you to share during your visit. OR plan to share with other residents and caregivers. OR ask a caregiver to store the “leftovers.”)

 

From Expert #3: Teresa Borger
Community Liaison
Spectrum Home Health

Create a calendar filled with family pictures from your loved one’s past. Hang it in their personal space, in clear view. There are lots of scrapbooking products and online services from which to choose. Look for a seasonal special.

Hint: If you don’t complete your calendar in time, make it a New Year’s gift. Ask friends and family to bring photos to seasonal gatherings. Have them scan and send high-resolution copies of their favorites. Once you’ve fulfilled your holiday obligations, use your “down time” to finish.

(We’ll add a special request here: Please fill in birthdays, anniversaries and other important family milestones or events. These make great conversation starters for caregivers and visitors.)

 

The Best Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s Keep Them Smiling

Be careful as you stir memories and emotions. Not all are happy. Do your best to make Mom and Dad feel good right now. Distract them from unhappy thoughts by introducing pleasant new sights, smells, tastes and sounds.

 

From Expert #4: Karen Clond, LMSW
Dementia Care Specialist
Heart of America Alzheimer’s Association

I’m a huge fan of an amaryllis bulb in a pot. Watch it grow and flower during the dreary winter months. (You can force other spring bulbs to bloom, but the amaryllis gives a fantastic show.)

 

From Expert #5: Linda Harmon
Director
Jeanne’s Place

A soft stuffed animal is very comforting. I once worked with a cat lover who no longer had a pet. Her family’s gift of a FurReal kitty, which purred and moved its head, was a huge hit. Mom spent much of her day calmly petting her feline friend!

While that cat lover wasn’t a bird lover, many people are. Consider buying and installing a bird feeder just outside a window. (If Mom is living in a home other than yours, be sure to consult with her caregivers first – bird seed can be hard on grass and landscaping. Please volunteer to take charge of refilling the feeder, too!)

I’d also suggest a digital photo frame loaded with lots of pictures of family and friends, set to change images every several seconds.

 

From Expert #6: Michael Fleming
Son of a former Care Haven Homes resident

You can’t go wrong with warm, non-skid socks and full slippers for Mom or Dad.  Give long sleeve mock turtlenecks to the ladies and flannel shirts to Dad!

 

(Mike shows he’s an expert when he specifies “full slippers.” Avoid any mule-style, backless slippers. They might slip off while Mom or Dad walks, causing a fall.)

 

From Expert #7: Jane Knapp
Daughter of a former Care Haven Homes resident

Dad loved the cuddly blanket Jeannine recommended – sheepskin on one side and velveteen on the other. He enjoyed getting new pajamas, too.

He appreciated the way specially designed clothes, like shirts and pants for the wheelchair-bound, made life more comfortable. We even found a winter cape that was fantastic for outings.

Dad loved popcorn, diet soda pop and cookies. He was thrilled to get a new video or a personalized calendar with pictures of his kids and grandkids.

The absolute best gift anyone can give is time. Your loved one appreciates that more than anything else. I often saw sullen residents turn joyful with the arrival of a family member.

 

The Best Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s Create Special Moments

Jane makes a good point. Winter days often seem long and lonely. Things get interesting as soon as visitors appear.

Give your loved one 20 to 60 minutes of your undivided attention. Pledge to stay calm and relaxed, no matter what happens. Join them in their moment, just as they are today.

 

From Expert #8: Deborah Garnett, RN, PhD
Daughter of a current Care Haven Homes resident

Keep it small and simple. Instead of a big Christmas gift, I “treat” Mom to fun times spent with family.

There are so many ways to give the gift of a better visit:

  • I buy small craft projects, games or jigsaw puzzles and keep them in the car. If Mom is in the mood, we dash out to retrieve one and spend a fun visit working together. (On the other hand, if she’s not interested, we leave everything in the car, thus keeping her house uncluttered.)
  • I keep a digital photo album of Mom and different family members on my phone. I also keep a photo collage in her room, which we occasionally take down for a closer look. Here’s a special tip: Mom is more engaged when we’re looking at pictures that include her, too!
  • Bright flowers are always a hit. Mom enjoys arranging them in a vase and putting them on a table in the living room to share.
  • She also loves it when I bring a bag of small candy bars. Again, she loves having something to share, delighting in doling out one or two to each of the other residents.

 

Among the best holiday gifts for people with Alzheimer's: visit by a silly elf!

Our Employee Photo Contest Honorable Mention: Silly Elf! (photo credit: Deonisia Hernandez)

More Tips for a Better Visit

Whatever present you bring, deliver it with the gift of a quiet visit. Go by yourself or in a group of two or three. Prepare to leave whenever your loved one seems tired, overwhelmed or agitated.

Be sure everyone is healthy. DON’T bring the “gift” of a cold or flu to seniors, whose immune systems are much weaker than yours.

DO consider sharing a toddler’s infectious giggles and smiles with Mom or Dad. Many older adults love seeing babies and young children. Stay awhile if your little one is happily engaged. Bring your visit to a close as soon as she – or Mom – is ready for a nap.

(You’ll find more tips in the articles linked at the bottom of this post.)

 

Occasionally Consider Becoming a Tour Director

From Expert #9: Caroll Oliver
Patient Care Coordinator
Great Lakes Caring

Take Mom or Dad on a fun outing. For example, I take my mom to lunch. Then we get a manicure or pedicure together.

 

From Expert #10: Nori Nakamura
Owner
Musical Journey

Spending time together is a beautiful thing. Take your loved one to a restaurant or Christmas concert, or for a car ride to see Christmas lights. They may not remember the details later, but the positive mood you create lasts long after the event.

(Just be careful while you’re out and about. Check out our 5 winter safety tips, so everyone returns home safe and sound.)

 

Above All, Bring Joy

From Expert #11: Caroline Dawson
LMSW
Agewise Advocacy & Consulting

During this over-stimulating season, comfort is one of the best gifts you can give your loved ones. Over-stimulated leads to OVERWHELMED, and they need your help to avoid growing tired, agitated and confused.

Give yourself permission to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Aim to spend time together in calm one-on-one moments or small group gatherings, rather than in an overwhelming celebration. Adjust your expectations – and those of family and friends.

  • Are old neighbors asking to visit? Tell them what dates and time work best – even if that means waiting for the new year. Or invite them – one or two at a time – to share an hour looking over favorite photo albums.
  • Do family members insist on giving big presents? Try to avoid a big, noisy exchange. Suggest gifts or gift certificates that will bring Mom joy in the new year: coffees, teas, sweets, manicures or movies, to be enjoyed at home or during special outings. (And assure them you’ll remind Mom of their generosity every time you bring out their decadent chocolates!)
  • Does the loss of a particular tradition seem too much to bear? Preserve it by passing it on! Teach your children, nieces and nephews to bake Mom’s cookies or carve a roast like Dad. Go ahead and buy tickets to the Messiah or the Nutcracker, and treat a friend to the experience. Spread the joy!

 

The Best Gifts for People with Alzheimer’s Support, Stimulate & Engage

Alzheimer’s is a journey. As you plan gifts, visits or outings, prepare to meet your loved one wherever the road has taken them. Use the past as a guide, but look for clues that they may need or prefer something new.

 

From Expert #12: Jeanne Reeder
Board Member
Jeanne’s Place

For people  in the early stages of dementia:

Give anything that enhances or jogs their memory

  • Pocket-sized calendar, diary or notebook
  • White erase board (maybe several – one for each room)
  • Calendar with family members’ pictures and names (see Expert 3’s suggestions above)

Help with everyday tasks

  • Memory phone with pictures accompanying name and contact information
  • Clock with the date and time in large type (a much-loved gift that helps caregivers, too)
  • Night lights that come on automatically at dusk

Keep them engaged (see Expert 8 above, too)

  • Outings to movies, museums, plays or sporting events
  • iPod personalized with their favorite music
  • DVDs of favorite TV shows (e.g., Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, Golden Girls), musicals or music videos

Concentrate on stimulating the senses as your loved one moves to the middle or late stages (See Experts 1, 2, 6 and 7 above for ideas)

Keep them connected to friends and family

We’ll add one of our favorite holiday suggestions here, for anyone with dementia – but especially for those in the early stages. Help Mom and Dad share their most valuable gifts: talents, recipes, traditions, family history. Show your respect and delight as these treasures are being passed on to you. For example, when you look at old photos together, listen as Mom names the stranger no one else remembers – and tells their story. Thank her for passing on these memories.

 

Jeanne’s Bonus Tip: Don’t Forget A Gift for the Family Caregiver!

A family caregiver values time, respite and companionship – on their terms.

Deliver a meal once a month. Stay to visit while you share it.

Give a gift certificate for professional services – or a homemade coupon if you’re willing and able – to

  • Help with house cleaning, lawn care or snow removal
  • Provide respite care

Consider gift certificates that help the caregiver enjoy their respite

  • For entertainment, like restaurants, concerts or movies
  • For personal services, like a day at the spa, or a massage, manicure and pedicure
  • For splurging on their favorite sort of shopping trip: to a craft store, bookstore or boutique

Support them no matter how they choose to spend their time off: perusing an art gallery, catching up on their knitting, enjoying a cup of coffee, attending a support group meeting.

Don’t forget: even little splurges brighten a family caregiver’s difficult days. A box of special teas says you’re thinking of her as she sips her afternoon cup. A luxurious hand cream brings welcome relief to chapped hands as she washes them yet again. Flameless candles add ambiance without raising any safety concerns.

 

Make It A Season – Not a Day – of Giving

Among the best holiday gifts for people with Alzheimer's: A quiet moment listening to Christmas music

Our Employee Photo Contest Winner: Holiday Season – finding joy in a quiet moment (photo credit: Deonisia Hernandez)

To sum up, don’t stress over dates and deadlines this season. People with Alzheimer’s – and their family caregivers – needn’t be tightly tethered to the holiday calendar.

Something Nori Nakamura said bears repeating. Your loved one

“may not remember the details later, but the positive mood you create lasts long after. . . .”

Don’t worry about presenting the perfect gift on the date you’ve always celebrated. Choose the day you can relax and enjoy together. Ask your loved one’s caregivers if they’re most content and alert at a particular time of day. Check for the quiet times, when other residents and activities won’t distract.

Then, as Caroline Dawson suggests,

“Spread the Joy!”

Enjoy simply being together. When you leave, know that you’ve given Mom or Dad a sense that all is well. That’s a comforting feeling that will last for days to come.


Resources from other sites, to help with this season’s visits

Photographing Older Adults: Make Silver Shine in the Golden Years

alzheimers dementia care

The seasons of smiling and snapping are upon us. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve – family and friends gather with cameras.

Each generation presents its challenges. Toddlers speed out of the frame. Teens who beam for selfies frown darkly at a parent’s lens.

Our beloved grandfather and great aunt can be uncooperative, too. Especially if past portraits have been less than flattering.

With a little luck and planning, photographing older adults creates treasured family heirlooms. Try these 10 tips for making the silver-haired members of your clan shine. (They’ll make your other photos sparkle, too!)

1. Picture Mom in the Moment

Remember the first year you lived away from home? When you returned for the holidays, you hoped everyone would notice you’d changed.

alzheimer care homesNow it’s your turn to notice. When photographing older adults, focus on who they are now – not who they used to be.

Don’t try to recreate scenes from the past. Let go of the memories or abilities Mom has lost, or the traditions she’d prefer to forget. You won’t capture her smile after a chorus of “You forgot to wear your holiday sweater!” or “Not making your apple pie?”

Before you raise the camera, take a good look at who Mom is today. How does she spend her days? Does she have new friends or hobbies? What makes her smile? If you want a good picture, focus on that.

Ask her to model her outrageous Red Hat Society garb. Admire her newfound talent for painting. Snap a shot as she spoils her dog or gets silly with the grandchildren.

2. Put Away the “Cheese,” and Put Her at Ease

We often rush into picture taking, especially during the holidays. We race to line everyone up before anyone gets away. We wonder why we end up with a shot full of squints, wiggles and grimaces.

Like an athlete, you need to warm up before photographing older adults. Join Mom in setting the table, filling the bird feeders, or putting together a puzzle. Keep the conversation light. Watch for a smile.

THEN it’s time to get out the camera.

3. Stand Back – But Let the Camera Move In

alzheimers dementia careWe’re tempted to get EVERYTHING in the picture: the people – table setting – holiday decorations – snow on the ground outside.

That usually makes for a bad picture.

Focus on one subject in each photo. If you hope to capture many people or things, take lots of carefully focused photos.

Your subject should fill the frame. If you want to capture Mom’s smile, concentrate on her face. If you want to show off her pretty blouse, picture her from head to hip. Reading to her grandchildren? Sneak in till you’ve framed just this intimate little group.

Worried that she’ll feel uncomfortable when you’re so close? That’s what your adjustable lens is for! Stand back and zoom in.

4. Turn the Spotlight on Her

A director sets the stage to fasten attention on one actor or small group. He removes all distractions.

Make sure Mom plays the featured role in your photo, too. Check the background.

  • Does it make her seem small, frail or unimportant? Do things appear to stick out of her head?
  • Do dirty dishes, cords and clutter surround her? Are you taking a picture of Mom or a mess?
  • Sometimes Mom’s wheelchair or walker will show in your pictures. Consider adjusting the shot to make it seem less important. Get less of it and more of Mom.

senior care for alzheimer’s5. Make Sure She Shines

“I want to be in an ambush photo on the front page of a tabloid,” said no one ever.

Avoid the unflattering shot. Paraphrasing the Golden Rule, take pictures of others that you would have them take of you.

It may or may not be okay to take a picture of Mom misty-eyed, or in a bad mood. But if she’s always taken pride in her appearance, is it okay to photograph her with smeared lipstick? With spaghetti sauce spattering her blouse?

Be kind. Honor her spirit. See that she looks her best.

6. Don’t Shoot Till You See the Twinkle in Her Eye

Like the rest of us, some seniors are hams. Others freeze up when formally posed.

If Mom always flashes a fabulous smile, by all means snap away. Otherwise, catch her in action, doing whatever makes her happy.

Frame a picture worth taking. Focus in on the smile she exchanges with her grandbaby. Zoom in to show her absorbed in a book or puzzle. Capture her far-away gaze at the bird feeder, or her glee at joining in the sing-along with a tambourine.

7. Catch the Light

dementia homecarePhotography is the capture of light on film or in digital memory. You can’t take a good picture in the wrong light. Too little and you’ll have a dark, dull blur. Too much washes away color and details.

Remember that strong light highlights every blemish, bald spot and wrinkle. It casts dark shadows. Handled correctly, this creates a distinctive portrait. More often, the results are downright scary. As an amateur photographer, it’s better to start with soft lighting.

When outdoors, avoid the fierce mid-day sun. Take photos in early morning or evening, when light isn’t glaring from overhead. If you have an early afternoon event, take your pictures under an overhang or in light shade.

Indoors, during the day, open the blinds and let the light shine in on Mom’s face.

WARNING: Don’t use a window as Mom’s backdrop. A camera adjusts for the light behind her. If it’s bright outside, Mom’s image will turn into a dark shadow.

  • Move between Mom and the window, so the light shines on the side of her face. (Be careful that you’re not casting a shadow on her.) OR
  • Add a soft light at her side. OR
  • As a last resort, use your flash to balance the light.

At night or on dark days, you’ll need to add lots of light. Avoid harsh overhead lighting, especially fluorescent fixtures that give your photos a green hue. Use plenty of soft lamps. If you can, adjust a desk lamp so it bounces light up, off the ceiling and onto your subject.

A note about taking action shots in low light: Use your flash. Stay close enough to light everything in the frame. Steady yourself, then take a deep breath and hold it until you get the shot. When it’s dark, the camera lens stays open longer to capture enough light to make a picture. If Mom moves or your hand shakes, the lens will capture that, too – with a blur.

8. Capture Color – or Contrast

dementia homecaredementia home care services

Long ago, a photographer had to choose between color or black and white film. Today’s digital cameras can shoot in either. Editing programs let us keep changing the colors long after we shoot. Look at your photos in both.

Colors create a mood, make a statement or express someone’s personality. Aunt Mabel shows her spunk as she embarks on a morning walk in shiny purple warm-up suit and silver sneakers.

A monochromatic scheme focuses our attention on shapes and lighting. If too many colors draw your eye away from what’s most important, then consider black and white. Keep in mind, though, that the most appealing black and white pictures are not grey. They feature a strong contrast between light and dark spaces.

9. Count on Correct – Not Autocorrect

It’s fun to experiment with colors and filters. Don’t, however, take bad pictures and expect to save them with photo editing.

In the beginning, concentrate on getting the lighting and framing right. That produces a much sharper photo than one relying on heavy cropping and enhancement.

10. So Many Shots – So Little Time

Another advantage of digital photography is that you can experiment for free. Take lots of shots, quickly. Take even more shots when you’re shooting action or a group of people. A surprising number are ruined when someone blinks or leans out of the frame.

Move fast, especially if you’re asking someone to pose. Irritated, tired or bored subjects stop smiling.

Of course, friends who have to look through a lot of bad pictures stop smiling, too. Choose only your best photos and edit before sharing. Delete the rest.

NOTES ON SHARING:

Be sure your photos are shareable. If a friend likes a quick look at lots of pics, “optimize” them, shrinking before sending. If she wants to print your photos, be sure to send them “Actual Size.” Send just one large image at a time to get through most spam filters.

It’s important to get permission before sharing a person’s image. It’s especially important when photographing older adults in health care or senior living settings. Privacy laws such as HIPPA may apply. If a person has dementia or can’t make decisions for themselves, get approval from someone with legal authority to speak for them. If you’re not a close friend or family member, get permission from the operator of the health care or senior living facility, too.

When Coping With Alzheimer’s, Celebrate BIG in Small Spaces

10 Tips for Holiday Decorating That’s Festive, NOT Overwhelming

Getting ready to celebrate the first holiday since Mom moved out of her house? What can you do with overflowing boxes of decorations now stored in your basement?

(Hint: You have everything you need to decorate Mom’s new home. Just pick and choose wisely. We’ve got a new Pinterest board to inspire you.)

1. Start with just one special thing

The best designers begin decorating small spaces by selecting a focal point.

Is Mom proud of the flair she had for trimming a tree? Honor that. Decorate a beautiful miniature tree. Display a strand of twinkling lights or gleaming garland. Create a small display of shiny ornaments.

If Mom loved baking, tie cinnamon sticks, gingerbread men or cookie cutters to a wreath.

Trigger her memories with the sights and sounds of the season. Remember: Someone coping with Alzheimer’s appreciates their sensory experiences in small doses. Avoid the busy and the blaring. Let them concentrate on one thing at a time.

2. Focus on memories, not decorations

If you could relive any holiday memory with Mom, which would you choose?

  • Did she teach you how to glide across an icy pond or build the perfect snowman? Feature mittens or skates in your holiday décor.
  • Did you enjoy caroling together? Play a CD or iPod loaded with seasonal music when you visit.
  • Don’t forget to find space for framed pictures that capture your special moments together.
  • Leave a note for caregivers to explain especially important memories. Attach labels to the backs of pictures so they can guide a conversation about the people and places in them.

3. Build to scale

When decorating small spaces, go for a big impact – without crowding. For example, don’t smother the windows and walls of a cozy room with garlands.

  • Surround the frame of a round dresser mirror with artificial greenery, to form a wreath. Leave the center open for a clear view. OR
  • Highlight a single beaded garland. Drape it, shimmering, over a rod in the window – out of the way of moving curtains and shades.

4. Display heirlooms a new way

image-1Mom’s treasures might include an assortment of holiday photos, ornaments or cross-stitched handkerchiefs. Create a wall display of the best, arranged in the shape of a wreath or tree.

Was her pride & joy a collection of Santas, nutcrackers or holiday houses? Put out one or two. Take pictures of the rest for a brag book she can share.

5. Find a new favorite

If Mom’s holiday favorites are delicate or oversized, it’s time to make a substitution. To replace a fragile Nativity, try

  • Buying a small set made of composite material, built to withstand rough handling, OR
  • Exploring stores that feature unique yet inexpensive crafts from around the world.

Look for an intriguing, compact crèche. It might become Mom’s new bedside treasure.

6. Keep it user-friendly

When decorating small spaces, it’s tempting to display holiday greetings with ribbons or clips. Be careful.

Your clever display might frustrate Mom’s attempts to sort and study cards and photos. Keep them in a special basket instead.

Add photos of families, friends and holidays past (scanned copies of valuable originals).

Exploring the basket could become a favorite winter pastime. If it does, be sure to add new pictures from time to time.

7. Make it easy to maintain

Caregivers have a lot to do, keeping Mom warm, healthy, safe and calm during the holidays. Don’t distract them from her care by asking them to maintain your decorations. More importantly, don’t create tripping, fire and other safety hazards.

  • Choose small, artificial trees that don’t tip, shed or need water.
  • Use shatterproof ornaments.
  • Select lights that are cool to the touch (and turn on with the simple flip of a switch).
  • Avoid open flame; opt for battery-operated candles.
  • Don’t expect Mom to use special seasonal linens or appear in holiday outfits every time you visit.

8. Less is more

Mom has lots of ornaments, but only a few are truly special. Highlight three of them atop candlesticks on a table.

Mom once loved holiday lights, but now she’s disturbed by large, flashing displays. Hang a small marquee in the shape of an angel or other holiday design on her wall, and turn it off if it bothers her.

9. Create more memorable moments

Decorating small spaces offers a huge opportunity to work together. Side by side, you can create a blizzard of snowflakes for the window. Make an advent countdown chain for the wall, or an army of gingerbread men to march around a wreath.

Keep plans simple. You’re enjoying the company of someone coping with Alzheimer’s – not attempting to create an award-winning design.

10. Respect others’ traditions

Ask permission before decorating the common spaces of Mom’s new home. As you choose decorations, be sensitive to other residents’ tastes and traditions. If you place an advent candle on the mantle, leave room for a menorah or kinara. Use colors shared by many different faith traditions: silver, gold, white, blue.

Everyone can celebrate a winter season filled with snowflakes, snowmen, candles, cookies and stars. Those decorations can last till Valentine’s Day!

Visit Us on Pinterest

Care Haven Homes is on Pinterest this holiday season.
We display pictures of the season’s best ideas for decorating small spaces.
Look there for your inspiration!

 

Leaving on a Jet Plane – Should You Travel With Alzheimer’s?

Picture of Airport Sign

Some of our residents’ families want to bring Mom or Dad home for the holidays.

We want to recreate “happy golden days of yore,”1 as the carols say. We don’t want to leave anyone out, especially the senior members of our clan.

We always recommend starting with a trial run: a well-planned afternoon outing. (See our 5 Secrets to Coping With Alzheimer’s at Your Holiday Dinner.)

If that turns out well, you may dream of extended travel. A long stay requires more than following 5 simple tips. You’ll have to commit to thorough preparation – and perhaps a little soul-searching.

Your dream started with a nostalgic carol. We suggest a few different songs to guide your planning.

Travel Tune #1

db-316-winter-029-4276-copyOver the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.2

OR: The Horse Won’t Know the Way. Do You?

You’ll be the tour director on this excursion – in charge of even the smallest details. Plot each twist and turn along the way. Prepare a backup plan for every step.

  • Will someone drive you to the airport? If not, how will you park the car? Will Dad get upset at the crowded check-in counter? Is he strong enough to ride up escalators and down long walkways? How will you carry the luggage? Does your airline offer special help?
  • Have you prepared Dad for security procedures he may find threatening? Will they catch him off guard or off balance? Think about whether he’ll be willing to remove his shoes and part with a watch or duffel bag. Stand with arms raised in a full body scanner or be “frisked” by an electronic wand.
  • Are you eligible for priority boarding? Help to your seats? Will the airline guarantee to seat you and Dad together on every flight? Are your seats close to a bathroom?
  • People coping with Alzheimer’s often are sensitive to noise, temperature and other sensations. Can Dad muffle the roar of takeoff by listening to an iPod loaded with his favorite music? Will sipping water before and during takeoff ease ear pain? Does his doctor have a better suggestion? Can Dad shrug off a chill with his favorite sweater or a blanket?
  • Have you checked on food and beverage service? Are the offerings appropriate for Dad? Do you need to make other arrangements?
  • Are you prepared for the inevitable overbooking, delay or cancellation? How will you keep yourself and Dad calm when all around you are losing their cool? Is your carry on bag packed with emergency refreshments? Can you find peace and quiet in an airport lounge?
  • How will you handle Dad’s toileting needs? Are you ready to change continence garments in cramped stalls or airplane restrooms? Who will sit with Dad while you use the bathroom?
  • People coping with Alzheimer’s are easily confused under the best of circumstances. Hectic crowds are especially disorienting – and often frightening. Can you offer gentle reassurance all along the way? Where can you find a safe space for Dad to relax?

Travel Tune #2:Orange toiletry bag

Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.3

OR: How Helpful is YOUR Carry-On?

Yes, your hands will be full as you guide Dad through crowds in the concourse.

But avoid the temptation to check your bulging carry-on.

You need to prepare for delays, missed connections or lost baggage. Once you reach your destination, you can relax and help Dad settle in rather than dash out for supplies. Keep on hand

  • Anything Dad will need during the first 72 hours of your trip, and
  • Anything he’ll need during the trip that you can’t buy after arrival.

At a minimum, your carry on should include

  • ALL medication.
  • 2 days’ supply of toiletries.
  • 2 changes of clothing, including continence supplies. (Consider more if you’re concerned about spills or accidents.)
  • A favorite sweater or blanket.
  • Water and snacks.
  • Something calming to pass the time, e.g. a small album or book filled with photos, a favorite magazine.

Travel Tune #3:

20160706_134929I get by with a little help from my friends . . .
I’m going to try with a little help from my friends.4

OR: Have You Asked for Help?

Professional caregivers guide Dad through his daily routine. They work together to prepare nutritious meals he can – and wants to – eat. They oversee bathing & dressing. They give medications and tend to skin tears or bruising. They check and change incontinence garments. They guard against tripping hazards.

It’s a big job even when handled by a team. Professional caregivers work in shifts, relieving each other so they can rest and recharge.

Who will stand in for this team during Dad’s visit? How many family members can you rely on to take turns at personal care? Are they knowledgeable and strong enough to handle the job? Have you considered hiring professional in-home caregivers during Dad’s visit?

In case of an emergency, who will stand in for his regular doctor? Where are the nearest medical facilities? Is Dad’s doctor available to consult by phone?

Have you planned your own respite care? Traveling at the side of someone coping with Alzheimer’s can be exhausting. Pace yourself. Be certain you’re well rested before the return trip.

Most importantly, be sure you’re able to share unhurried moments with Dad. You’ve worked hard to bring him home. Now relax and enjoy one another’s company.

Travel Tune #4:xmas-sun-7

He’s leaving
On that midnight train to Georgia,
Said he’s going back
To a simpler place and time.5

OR: Will LA Prove Too Much for the Man?

After careful planning, you may decide that extended travel and a long stay are too much for you to handle. To be honest, they may be more than Dad can handle, too.

You’d like to take Dad home, but he probably won’t feel AT home there. Your home is not his home.

People coping with Alzheimer’s are easily confused and disoriented. Few of them like high adventure. They feel more comfortable and secure following regular routines in familiar surroundings. Most prefer simple pastimes and the company of people who love and care about them.

What does Dad most enjoy about the holidays? Share that with him. Did he spend long hours on a ladder every December, clipping wires to the gutters? Treat him to a tour of area light displays. Whisk him off just after dinner, and return him home in time for his bedtime ritual.

If he loved your mother’s baking, bring him a batch of favorite cookies. Better yet, bring undecorated cookies, and let him help with the icing and sprinkles.

If music was his passion, find a simple concert he might enjoy. A grandchild’s Christmas pageant – a community concert – carolers at the mall. (Plan for an early exit in case he grows tired or restless before the finale.)

Favorite holiday movies loaded on the DVD are a real treat – if you stay to enjoy his favorite scenes.

You don’t have to bring Dad home for the holidays. You can bring him a holiday you’ll both treasure. Don’t worry about recreating past celebrations. Meet Dad in his present. Create new memories in this moment.

Song Sources:

Title: Denver, John. Leaving on a Jet Plane. Cherry Lane Publishing Company. 1967.

1 Blane, Ralph and Martin, Hugh. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 1943. Emi Feist Catalog, Inc. 1944.

2 Child, Lydia Maria. Over the River and Through the Woods (A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day). Women’s History. About.com. Jone Johnson Lewis, editor. http://womenshistory.about.com/od/thanksgiving/a/child_thanks_lg.htm (December 3, 2014)

3 Bill Withers. Lean on Me. Interior Music Incorporated USA. 1972

4 Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul. With a Little Help from my Friends. Northern Songs. 1967.

5 Weatherly, Jim. Midnight Train to Georgia. Universal-PolyGram International Publishing, Inc. 1971.

Talking Turkey: 5 Secrets to Coping with Alzheimer’s at Your Holiday Dinner

 

Roast duckThe holidays gather families together. We catch up over turkey and dressing. We laugh as we bump elbows.

Unless we’re coping with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s slows mental processes and raises sensitivities. Someone coping with Alzheimer’s finds it difficult to follow a lively debate. They’re easily jarred by loud voices and clanging pans. They’re irritated by the cheerful crowd in a hot kitchen.

You CAN share a happy family feast with a loved one who is coping with Alzheimer’s. It just takes a little planning and a lot of understanding.

Secret 1: There’s No Place Like Home

architecture-home_mk8sruo_The holidays bring back memories of childhood celebrations. It’s tempting to recreate them by continuing Mom’s traditions in your own home. She’d enjoy your nod to the past. Or would she?

In Mom’s mind, your home is not her home. Its furnishings and routines are foreign. Even if this once was her home, it’s now out of her comfort zone.

Help her find her way around. Plan the routes she’ll travel to your door and inside your home.

  • Will she need a walker or wheelchair?
  • How will you handle stairs?
  • Are there clear pathways from the entrance to the living room, dining room and bathroom?
  • Is a sturdy armchair available in the living room and at the table?
  • Is there room for someone to help in the bathroom?
  • Do you have a quiet place she can rest if the festivities overwhelm her?

Someone Mom trusts should stay by her side. They should introduce her to loved ones she may not recognize and watch for signs of distress.

At the table, seat someone next to her who understands how to help with plating and eating. (For examples of how we tailor our homes to the needs of those coping with Alzheimer’s, see A Day in the Life.)

Have an “escape plan.” Mom may surprise you by announcing she’s ready to go back to her own home just as you carve the turkey. Gentle urging and pleading are unlikely to change her mind. Line up a trusted family member to serve as either your stand-in at the table or your mother’s chauffeur.

Consider whether you should bring a quiet feast to Mom’s home instead. Find out when Thanksgiving is celebrated where she lives, and ask if you can join in. (Then kiss her goodbye and return to your own home to host a larger group.) Or reserve a corner of the dining room on another day of Thanksgiving week for a private celebration.

Secret 2: Find One True Thing

Thanksgiving table decorationThe key to happiness – particularly for someone coping with Alzheimer’s – is to enjoy the moment. Not many past moments, but the single moment we’re living right now. As we are right now.

Mom no longer can spend long hours in the kitchen. She can’t orchestrate a complicated meal. Simplify!

What is the one thing Mom most loved as she prepared her feast? Maybe it was setting the table. Making the mashed potatoes. Saying grace. Give her THAT moment.

Make it simple. Ask if she’d like to put out the napkins, not every piece of every place setting. Suggest she brings a dish she’s prepared ahead, with the help of understanding caregivers. Ask what she’s thankful for – days ahead of time – so you can prompt her as she prays.

Don’t worry if everything is perfect, up to Mom’s past standards. Does anyone really care if the napkins are on the wrong side of the plate?

Understand that even Mom’s “one true thing” may be too much for her on such a big day. Accept that she may not want to say grace or put out all the napkins. Someone else can quietly step in to finish.

Focus on making the most of the time your family spends together.

Secret 3: Every Day is a Day for Thanksgiving

Alzheimer’s loosens Mom’s ties to the traditional calendar. Let it loosen yours, too.

Choose the best time and place to celebrate. Mom appreciates a special occasion, tailored to her preferences, whenever guests can join her. It’s fine if you eat Thanksgiving dinner together on Tuesday. Don’t feel guilty if you dine at different tables on Thursday.

Secret 4: Timing is Everything

 

Clock made of spoon and fork, isolated on white backgroundCarefully control the schedule.

  1. If your home is 15 minutes away from Mom’s, pick her up 30 minutes before you expect to sit down for dinner.
  2. Upon arrival, spend 15 minutes visiting.
  3. Plate Mom’s meal first, and the meal of the person who plans to drive her home second.
  4. Say your goodbyes soon after you finish dinner
  5. Spending a long day in unfamiliar surroundings may leave Mom overtired. Cut her visit short if she becomes weak, restless or upset. Don’t leave her too agitated to sleep through the night.

Secret 5: Be Prepared

Even if the visit is short, Mom should pack a small bag with important supplies you don’t keep on hand. Bring

  • A favorite sweater or blanket,
  • Continence supplies,
  • A change of clothes and
  • Emergency medication.
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