Category Archives: Support for Caregivers

Posts mention resources and suggestions that can help caregivers stay healthy.

Mysteries of Winter…and Dementia

I was raised on a diet of magic sleds and sugar plum fairies. So I have great reverence for the mysteries of winter.  But a real, human chimney sweep has long since replaced Santa as the person most likely to land in my fireplace. I’m not a slave to Christmas customs, apart from my need for a real tree, but this time of year still brings a mystery that challenges my imagination. How has my mother managed to celebrate another birthday?

cropped cake photo

Today is her day. For years, her annual party was overshadowed by family visits that stole the winter spotlight. Now, when these rituals are less prominent, we can have a real party — one just for her. Dementia complicates the event but it doesn’t steal all her pleasure.

It’s nearly impossible to interpret Mom’s speech and ten times harder to know what sensations still surge through her body. Yet, for some reason, Mom has not forgotten what the words “birthday”‘ and “party” mean. She was very happy for my sister when she observed a birthday weeks ago. The mention of my November birthday also made Mom smile. Whenever there is any event resembling a party, Mom’s light goes on and stays lit. Sweets delight her, sparkly things make her smile, and music gets her clapping. How is it that a disease that wiped out her vocabulary and coordination permits her to feel these moments of joy?

During the past seven-years, we have observed a transformation as my mother transitioned from a high stress executive workplace to a cushioned chair with sturdy arms. Much of her old personality has been erased, but the process has been so gradual, it’s hard to believe we are looking at the same person. This change has been as mysterious as the slow growth of an infant who, one day, goes off to college.

We are very fortunate to have her with us for one more birthday. I think it’s most important to cherish her momentary happiness and turn away any thoughts of what she’s lost. Happy birthday, Mom. May your winter dreams be filled with sweet visions and enchanting delights!

Finding Strength to be Thankful

As a child, the approach of Thanksgiving hinted at coming winter pleasures: special foods, snow days, wrapped gifts, etc. For adult caregivers, these delights are often erased by stress and fear of the disasters dementia can add to holidays. What can help us recover the joy hidden by clouds of worry? Careful planning is one tool — poetry is another.

Between the Pond and the Woods

First, some planning tips from the Alzheimer’s Association which might make your holidays less burdensome and more enjoyable:

  • Call a meeting to discuss upcoming plans. The stress of caregiving responsibilities layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. Invite family and friends to a face-to-face meeting, or if geography is an obstacle, set up a telephone conference call. Make sure everyone understands your caregiving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can do. Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine.
  • Be good to yourself. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. If you’ve always invited 15 to 20 people to your home, consider paring it down to a few guests for a simple meal. Let others contribute. Have a potluck dinner or ask them to host at their home. You also may want to consider breaking large gatherings up into smaller visits of two or three people at a time to keep the person with dementia (and yourself) from getting overtired.
  • Do a variation on a theme. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, consider changing a holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch. If you do have the celebration at night, keep the room well-lit and try to avoid any known triggers.
  • Build on past traditions and memories. Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums.
  • Involve the person in holiday preparation. As the person’s abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or hand decorations to you as you put them up. (Be careful with decoration choices. Blinking lights may confuse or scare a person with dementia, and decorations that look like food could be mistaken as edible.)
  • Maintain a normal routine. Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the holidays from becoming disruptive or confusing. Plan time for breaks and rest.

And here’s a really great idea:

  • Put respite care on your wish list! If friends or family ask what you want for a gift, suggest a gift certificate or something that will help you take care of yourself as you care for your loved one. It could be a cleaning or household chore service, an offer to provide respite care, or something that gives you a bit of rest and relaxation.

If these bits of advice don’t help you, here are a few quotations that can shift our focus to thankfulness as we confront the challenges that come with the disease.

“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road. ” — John Henry Jowett

“The best way to show my gratitude to God is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy. ” — Mother Teresa 

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. ” — G.K. Chesterton 

“An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed
highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers,
but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling.”  — Carl Gustav Jung 

“Old age is not a matter for sorrow. It is matter for thanks if we have left our work done behind us.” — Thomas Carlyle 

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark
from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep
gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”
Cynthia Ozick 

“We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics.”
Bill Vaughan 

SOURCE:; edited by Peter Y. Chou and

When I went hunting for poems and “thankfulness” quotes, I couldn’t help noticing that almost everything collected was written by men. Is that because women had fewer poetic ideas — or because they spent the last few centuries cooking, cleaning, and creating much that inspires our Thanksgiving attitude?Maybe they had no time left to sit down and write something clever about it.

Nevertheless, for me the most precise expression of gratitude is one of the few phrases my mom still says: Thank you! Even in stressful family situations, it’s a statement that, when offered with sincerity, makes our wheels stop and sit quiet for one sweet minute. Thanks also to readers for sharing so many concerns and solutions on this page. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!