Monday, January 26, 2015
Cancel Christmas, and Other Helpful Tips.
Over the holidays, I helped a caregiver with the type of problem that is unique to caregivers of people with dementia. I won’t mention her name but I asked her permission to write about it because I thought it was such a perfect example of how we can make our lives – and the lives of our care receivers – a little bit better.
This caregiver is caring for her mother, who has Lewy Body dementia and is currently on hospice care and getting more and more frail. She is still somewhat lucid and verbal, and enjoys spending time with family, and my friend. It being the holidays, my friend had lavishly decorated her home in the traditional manner, was baking and preparing holiday foods, and friends and family were stopping by and making plans. But she noticed that something about it being Christmas, which her mother was very aware of, was triggering her mother and was making her more and more agitated.
Her mother would ask after her own parents – where were they? Why weren’t they around for the holidays? She wouldn’t, or couldn’t, take in my friends reassurances and distractions. She would also ask after her husbands, both of whom were dead, and become sad and agitated. She would ask to bake or help decorate, which she was too frail to do. It was her surroundings that were causing her to remember what would normally happen during this time, and, of course, her disease was making it impossible to know why things were now different.
The idea popped into my head as my friend was talking, and I said, “Since it’s Christmas that is agitating her, maybe you should make her think that Christmas is over. Tell her it’s January!” We sat with this for a minute, and I could see her face at the thought of giving up her Christmas cheer and lights and loveliness. I suggested that since her mother isn’t very mobile, that maybe taking decorations only out of the places she would see might also work. My friend promised to go home and think about it. In the end, she did reduce the decorations and over-stimulating objects and events – at least where her mother could experience them – and it worked. There was much less agitation and upset and a lot more peace, and my friend still got some of her Christmas cheer.
It just made me think about being creative and using our imaginations to make things different for our care receivers. If your care receiver would be more comfortable with a different environment or slight changes in the structures around them, or even in thinking it’s a different holiday or season than it actually is – why not make it happen? Some facilities will paint the door out of the memory unit to match the wall, or make it look like something else because the sight of the door agitates people too much. There are all sorts of tricks and things to try that soothe and comfort and help the situation.
Think outside the box! Be a little crazy! Buck convention and don’t let anyone or anything tell you what “should be.” Pretend Christmas is over even though it is December 3rd, and take down the decorations! Have another family member bake the cookies and bring them over so the smell isn’t in the house. YOU still know what’s what but your care receiver will be more comfortable and less agitated, which will in turn make your life easier. Look around their environment today and think of ways to make it a better place to be.