Tag Archives: relationships with elders

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!

Dementia and the Struggle to Communicate

It used to happen occasionally, but now almost all of my mom’s speech comes out garbled. If I walk up behind her when she’s zoning out, it sounds like she’s speaking an alien language. My standard reply is: “Yes, of course.”

Smoke on the Water

Foggy morning, Henning Pond

“Of course” is one of Mom’s favorite expressions. It’s a phrase she likes to hear from me. But most times I have no idea what I’m affirming when I say it. I try hard to understand her crazy words from context, but when she gets that distant look in her eye, I don’t know what part of her galaxy she’s discussing. My sister thinks our mom is remembering old conversations. She’s heard our mother mention the names of her siblings when she’s in these trances. That may be true at times, but more often I find myself  scanning the room, trying to discover what’s prompting her talk.

Mom’s language sounds like the babble of children who speak before they know words. They point at things, their eyes light up. Their sincerity animates every little thing they struggle to say. And my mom is a very tiny lady who can be cute as a three-year old when she starts telling you one of her stories.

She makes me remember when I was a little kid. I think I became a “writer” when she gave me my first crayons and some blank construction paper. The letters of the alphabet were still a mystery to me, but I had my own set of scribbles that I used to create “words.” My stories were mainly about Blackie, the puppy we had when I was still too young for school. She listened while I “read” her the symbols she couldn’t decipher, completely unaware that she was launching a career.

Mom’s stories today, however, are not about puppies and I’m afraid that I could misinterpret her. What if she’s trying to tell me about a problem or a pain? She’s still got dental issues that we don’t know how to treat — and her sluggish digestive tract is a chronic preoccupation. There might be other matters, too, that we haven’t noticed and she can’t explain to us.

The master reference book for caregivers, The 36-Hour Day, recommends that caregivers ask specific questions to try to narrow communications down to their simplest form. Authors Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins suggest pointing at body parts and asking, “Does this hurt?” or “Do you hurt?” instead of using a more general question. They also observe that people with dementia communicate better when they are relaxed. So it’s important to appear calm (even if you’re not) and make it easier for them to express important thoughts.

When in doubt, I use the hug method if I feel I haven’t gotten the true gist of her words. The slow, simple hug is 100% effective at settling her down. Once she is calm, I can tell more accurately if there is something weird provoking her. Hugs are basic human medicine that can be administered anytime, at no cost. They help many dementia patients relax enough to communicate. Imagine where we’d be if drugs ever achieve that kind of success rate.