Tag Archives: relationships with elders

Small achievements, great joys

At this time of year, the shadow of dread touches me at least as often as signs of seasonal happiness. Yes, I am grateful that my mother has made it through another year. But I never know if she’ll actually understand what’s going on or be touched by things that once made her holidays joyful.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Lately she’s had me worried because, on most days, her speech is nearly incomprehensible. Sometimes I ask myself how she can go on when it’s obvious the jumble in her brain keeps her from saying a clear word. But this week something amazing happened. It wasn’t exactly a Christmas miracle — just one of those strange events that melts your heart and fills your eyes with tears.

The leader at her activity program organized an evening bus trip to take Mom and her fellow dementia sufferers out to see a giant display of Christmas lights. I tried to do something similar with her last year but it didn’t turn out well. She could barely get into the car and seemed more uncomfortable than impressed, even as we passed sparkling trees and store fronts. Fortunately, her program director had a minibus with large windows and good visibility which probably made the difference. Plus, the lights they saw were part of an enormous outdoor show at Shady Brook Farm.  Every arrangement was on a huge scale that made lights visible to even the weakest eyes. The farm also featured young students playing holiday music, a double trigger (kids+music) for my mom.

The day after their trip, Mom stood with me as I heard more details from the activity director. We were both surprised when Mom started to talk and told us how much she loved the tour. She shocked us by speaking in complete sentences and knowing that the trip was “yesterday.” “Yes-ter-day” — repeated the activity director, right along with me. “Yes-ter-day,” said Mom, again.  It was the first time in ages she’d held onto a memory for 24 hours. Like a sentimental mother hearing her child speak new words, I could barely keep from crying. I was so proud of her, so delighted by the deep impact of the trip.

I know I can’t hope this will happen often — or ever again. But for that one moment, her sentence spoke volumes to me, words I will never forget.

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: WisdomPortal.com; edited by Peter Y. Chou and BrainyQuotes.com

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!