Handling the holidays with Alzheimer’s: experts offer advice (printed in WP)

I know that it is one day past a major holiday. I read this article and wanted to share it anyway. I think it has very helpful information for anytime of the year. I believe it is sometimes the people who visit periodically that may more easily identify changes in individuals than those who see someone on a day-to-day basis. In my own experience of caregiving for my mother I often wonder if the changes might have been so gradual that I missed signs of early detection or possibly might have been in a bit of denial.

This article has several gift ideas. I suggest however, don’t wait for a holiday. My mother especially enjoyed music, outings in the car, a toy stuffed dog, and watching/listening to old movies. Also to my surprise, she liked the Western channel.

Below is the article I read that was printed in the Washington Post by Fredrick Kunkle.

By Fredrick Kunkle December 18
The holidays can be stressful for families coping with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, as people search for meaningful ways to honor traditions with loved ones whose memory of them may be fading.

They’re also a time when some family members, flying in from distant places, first notice signs of physical or mental decline in relatives they haven’t seen in a while, said Karen Lincoln, associate professor in school of social work at the University of Southern California.

“The change is more noticeable when there’s been some time since your last visit,” Lincoln said. “If you return home for the holidays and you notice change in your older adult – their physical condition, their walking, the condition of their house — then obviously it’s time, first and foremost, to sit down with that older adult and get a sense of what their health condition might be.”

Some advocacy organizations have compiled suggestions for handling the holidays, including gift lists for those who are newly diagnosed with cognitive decline and those in the later stages. Advocates also challenge people not to underestimate their loved ones.

“I think too many times, we as a society say, ‘Oh, they have dementia or they have Alzheimer’s disease — they won’t appreciate these things,’ and we just check them off our list — to just go buy them something quickly like a bunch of blowers or a box of candy,” said Cecilia Rokusek, executive director for the Geriatric Education Center at Nova Southeastern University.

Yet, Rokusek said, a woman who loved purses as a young healthy woman might be tickled to get a new one. Items that connect people to their memories are especially useful, she said.

“We really need to look at the person, even though we may think they don’t have the feelings or the [verbal] articulation,” Rokusek said. “We should never take for granted all the possibilities, because they’re still a person.”

Some gift ideas suggested by advocates in the health care community are common sense, such as arranging outings so that the person with dementia can participate in activities they’ve always loved, whether fishing or attending a theatrical performance. It’s also fairly obvious that it’s not a good idea to buy power tools for someone who is beginning to show cognitive lapses, and giving new high-tech devices is liable to create as much frustration as pleasure.

Several advocates urged family members to select gifts with the idea of helping loved ones come to grips with their condition, define their legacy, and reconnect to memories of the past. Others said gift ideas can be as simple as finding something that would give cheer and dignity to people in the later stages of the disease.

“Giving a journal is a great gift,” said Cat Koehler , social media advocate for Home Instead Senior Care, an agency based in Omaha, Nebraska. “For those who have dementia in the early stages, really, a journal is a great way to start talking about things that they want, what are the legacies they want to leave.”

The Alzheimer’s Association put together a list of items for people in the early, middle and late stages of the disease, including a list of helpful books. For those in the early stages, the association recommended items such as a family calendar with photos and dates for special family occasions. Other advocates suggest crossword puzzles and games that keep one’s mind nimble.

Those in the middle stages might benefit from being enrolled in MedicAlert and Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return, the organization’s 24-hour nationwide response service for wandering and medical emergencies.

For those in the late stages, framed photographs, comfortable clothing, and spending time together reading aloud can be comforting choices. Rokusek said that items that may seem childlike can nevertheless provide comfort for people in the most advanced stages.

Music is a popular choice for people in any stage of the disease, particularly from genres and eras that an aging person has loved for a long time. That’s because short-term memories tend to erode before more distant memories, Lincoln said.

As for caregivers, several advocates agreed that perhaps the best gift of all is a break from their duties.

Koehler’s agency, for example, has been arranging “caretaker cruises” for about five years — booking cabins for the adult child who is caring for an aging or disabled parent and a guest for a short cruise, often for under $1,000. And since that might be out of reach for many, families might still spring for a night or two at a local hotel.