Tips for navigating the holidays and Alzheimer’s – cleveland.com

Guest columnist Ann Paras of Hinckley Township is a member of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Cleveland Area Chapter board of directors and is the facilitator of two adult children caregiver support groups that meet monthly in Westlake. She developed the group four years ago, drawing from her experiences caring for her parents when they were battling dementia.

The holiday season is approaching. Fun, family, good times. But as a former caregiver to my parents who had Alzheimer’s and currently serving as an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator, I know firsthand how stressful the holidays can be for caregivers.

Caregivers are doing two things — thinking of their family and taking care of their loved one. Often, these things don’t mix well, especially at the holidays.

Families may think that bringing Mom or Dad home for Thanksgiving dinner, for example, is a wonderful way for everyone to interact. However, it’s not always a good idea. When a loved one with dementia is in an unfamiliar place (remember, your home may be unfamiliar now) he or she may engage in disruptive behavior. In this scenario, the caregiver’s intention is good, but the outcome isn’t.

The better plan could be to visit your loved one where they are residing. Consider a shorter visit and bring one or two family members at a time, not a dozen.

The holidays often can inspire us to try to rise to Martha Stewart levels of entertaining. As caregivers, it’s perfectly fine for us to lower our expectations of ourselves and of what we are “supposed” to do.

You are doing the right thing by celebrating the holidays with your loved one within the place they are most comfortable. This is especially true when that place isn’t the caregiver’s home.

For persons in Alzheimer’s early stage, some things they loved doing at this time of the year are now bigger challenges. For example, your loved one always baked the best cookies and pies for Thanksgiving. Now, she is not able to follow recipes that she used to cherish.

Caregivers are now faced with a potential onslaught from relatives like this: “You didn’t tell me Mom is so bad.” Family members can also offer many “suggestions” that also add to caregiver stress. In addition, people in the early stage often try to “pull it all together” for the holidays, leading to depleted energy.

My dad had Alzheimer’s disease and mixed/vascular dementia. Diagnosed in 2000, Dad lived with Alzheimer’s for three years, but he likely had the disease for five years prior to his diagnosis. My mom had vascular dementia and experienced “mini strokes,” resulting in episodes of cognition loss. She passed away in 2007, four years after my father.

It is so hard to see a parent become so vulnerable to this disease.

Here are some tips for easing holiday stress:

– Abandon a set agenda

– Simplify everything

– Establish a safe environment for your loved one

And contact the Alzheimer’s Association by calling the 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 for information at any stage of the journey, delivered by trained experts. Visit www.alz.org/Cleveland for information about free caregiver support services, community and online education programs, volunteer opportunities, advocacy efforts, fundraising events and research.

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Readers are invited to submit Opinion page essays on topics of regional or general interest. Send your 500-word essay for consideration to Ann Norman at anorman@cleveland.com. Essays must include a brief bio and headshot of the writer. Essays rebutting today’s topics are also welcome.

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