The holidays are stressful for most everyone. Add the care of a person starting to experience memory loss and the stress level can feel unbearable. Here are some tips to help better cope during this season when dealing with a forgetful loved one.
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It’s important that family and friends know what to expect when visiting their loved one. Whether it’s at the initial stages of forgetfulness-losing keys, losing sense of time — or at the juncture with more pronounced symptoms such as loss of words or names or repeating the same phrases, everyone needs to come armed with a sense of patience and compassion.
Figure out the ideal situation
Decide ahead of time the best times to socialize. Is the loved most responsive in the morning or evening? Is eating a challenge? Be sure there is adequate seating arrangements with a table. It’s difficult to hold a plate and drink while activity swirls around. Do they react negatively to noise? What seems to be most irritating to them? Once these questions are determined, it’s easier to plan outings or invite family over to visit. If the noise level of grandchildren is particularly grating, either assign a person to keep them occupied or steer toward adult-only gatherings. For others, noise is not problematic; a memory loss patient can also thrive on the enthusiasm of little ones.
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Be flexible on traditions
Many feel it makes sense that continuing holiday traditions should help patients retain their memories. This happens in some cases. For many, their senses and perceptions have dramatically changed. For example, going from a lit house to a dark street can be disorienting. Flashing lights on a tree can be frightening. Foods that used to be beloved are no longer identifiable. Keep expectations low and never force traditions upon a person suffering memory loss. Yes, Pop used to read The Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve. Now is the time to let others have their turn.
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The need for a caregiver’s own self-care cannot be emphasized enough. Get plenty of sleep, maintain good nutritional habits and take some time away for yourself. Bring in the troops! Most of the time there are friends and family willing to take shifts so that caregivers can shop, visit with friends, attend appointments and even have a little fun. Don’t be shy about asking for help. The holidays come with long things-to-do lists. Taking time to be organized and mentally and physically well will make the holiday season a more pleasant experience for any caregiver.
Rebecca Borello is the Memory Care Manager at Chesterwood Village in West Chester Twp.
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