So, you’re hosting the crowd for Thanksgiving or — projecting out a little — Christmas.
And among the crowd is someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s — your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, in-law … whoever.
The point is this: More and more, families will have to learn to deal with a loved one who has dementia, full blown or in the early stages of. And it’s a challenge for everyone in the best of times, an extraordinary challenge with the heightened expectations and stress of the holidays.
“We have an expectation that loved ones should never change from the person we’ve perceived them to be for years, but everyone changes significantly over an extended period, especially those diagnosed with dementia,” said Kerry Mills, an expert on dementia and consultant to numerous hospitals, assisted livings, hospice, home care agencies, senior day care centers and nursing homes.
“Dementia encompasses a wide range of brain diseases, which means it’s not the fault of a Grandma if she has trouble remembering things or gets flustered. Empathy for what she’s experiencing on the level of the brain will help your relationship with her. Do not expect her to meet you halfway to your world; you have to enter her world.”In a prepared statement about how to treat someone with dementia this holiday season, Mills offered a list of tips, using a Grandma as the example.
Here’s what she advises:
- Do not get frustrated;
- Dedicate someone to Grandma during the gathering;
- Give Grandma a purpose – give her a task in the kitchen;
- Use visual imagery and do not ask yes-or-no questions;
- Safety is the biggest priority.
It’s easy to get frustrated with someone who isn’t the person you remember them to be or hope they’d still be. “She simply doesn’t have access to certain details, but she is still a conscious and feeling person who has plenty to offer. If you get frustrated, she’ll pick up on it,” said Mills.
She suggests someone to be with the individual “to act as a liaison to process things.” She said: “,,, be careful not to overwhelm her with attention. Her brain, which has trouble processing some information, could use assistance…”
By engaging the individual — Grandma in the kitchen mashing potatoes or Gramps in a conversation about football — it makes them part of the event, not apart from it.
On the issue of asking yes-or-no questions, Mills said this: “Direct Grandma in conversation; say things to her that may stimulate recollection, but don’t push a memory that may not be there. Pictures are often an excellent tool.”
And on the issue of safety, don’t let the individual be doing something that puts them in danger. If they shouldn’t be driving at night, don’t let them just because the dinner ran a little late. Make accommodations.
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.