Staying Connected through Dementia

A few short weeks mean the difference between fall and winter. Anyone caring for a person with dementia knows that basic skills can vanish with similar speed. When friends come to visit — as  they may during the holidays — they can be shocked by how rapidly the disease has changed someone.

My mom is lucky to have some very loyal friends who’ve continued to visit through the years since her diagnosis. I’ve tried hard to keep them informed of her condition via email and phone. But no matter how honest I am, few people realize what a swift and vicious eraser dementia can be. The disease can wipe out core abilities as fast as children learn them at the opposite end of the life cycle.

My mom’s friends have stayed in touch even as they retire from the workforce and travel to see distant grandchildren. But their occasional visits still mean a lot to my mom. At this point, she can’t truly remember who they all are or how she knows them. But to make visits as enjoyable as possible, I try to inform her friends, in advance, about what they will see and which activities she can manage without stress. Caregivers know that any variation in routine can be difficult, regardless of the good intentions driving the change.

The 36 Hour Day offers sound advice in this matter. The authors recommend that if the presence of a group of friends upsets the person too much, you should “try having only one or two people visit at a time.” They also suggest asking “visitors to stay for shorter periods” which minimizes disruption but still offers a way to keep connected.

As you plan for the holidays, this issue is something to keep in mind. It is especially important if you are facing that first tough year when changes in your loved one have you feeling apprehensive. My philosophy is: Don’t isolate — plan well first, then celebrate.

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