I want to preface this post with the warning that my writing here draws from my personal experiences only. I’m certainly not an expert in Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia, so please take what is written here with a grain of salt. My Grandfather has dementia and has lived in a Veterans Hospital for many years and my father has Alzheimer’s and has lived with my family for 4 plus months now.
You will see below that Dad is very happy coloring and drinking his “hot coffee” (as he calls it) on this Thanksgiving morning. He has no idea nor does he care what day, month or holiday it is. There is no anticipation of good food or company as he is happily in his daily routine (well, kind of cranky today). The world evolves around him, like a 2 year old in Freud’s egocentric stage and that is just the way it is.
It is only natural for us to want to call and visit our loved ones on holidays because they may or not be at the table with us and we are thinking of them. We do not want to forget them or for them feel neglected by us. Ya, a guilt thing. But the fact of the matter, as I stated in my last post, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia are not about you, but about the person who has it. So before you make your obligatory phone call or visit, think about the person and how they will benefit from it.
Confession, I quit calling my Grandfather a long time ago. Each time I called, he was overwhelmed and confused. When I visited him, I made those visits very short and sweet, took him for a walk and when he was done, I was done. It did not matter that I traveled across the country to see him, he did not care. The visit was to fulfill a need for myself, to see and visit with a man who has always been important in my life. Instead of calling now, I send him flowers, a card, a picture (better get one out today) or a mylar balloon bouquets to maybe cheer him up and so that I do not feel a guilt that I am not visiting with him or taking him for a walk.
Dad does not get a lot of phone calls, but he lives in a busy house and there are often visitors here. He is not from Louisiana, so anyone that comes here is not someone from his past. A person who he shares memories with is more likely to have an impact on him. There is no doubt that dad is more and more drawn into his own little world. Sometimes he is open to conversation and human communication and contact, while other times he would much rather be left alone and ignore the world around him. When someone calls or enters this house, it can cause some type of long-lasting reaction or not phase him at all (you never know). The visit or call may or may only have a temporary impact on him, but sometimes it can turn a day for this caregiver from good to awful. Stirring up a memory, a lucid interval that reminds him he is not well, tears, becoming agitated and not knowing why, can happen at the drop of a hat. Change anything in his environment and you are gambling with his mental well-being. That is what a call or visit is, a gamble that it will benefit the person for who it is intended. Though the intentions are always good, the results are not always the same.
Take into account the hustle and bustle of activity of a holiday, which already throws the person off their little world’s routine. Then just heap more onto it and you have a recipe for potential disaster. Here are a few suggestion that this caregiver would recommend when dealing with a loved one who is not mentally sound over the holidays (please feel free to add your own in the comment section of this blog):
* If you want to call or visit, do so in the morning after they have had their morning routine. Especially for those with Sundowners Syndrome, night time is not a good time for them.
* Call the caregiver ahead of time to schedule the call or visit. Do not be disappointed if you have to be flexible and the time you chose was not a good one that day.
* Do not feel obligated to call or visit on the holiday. They probably already have enough activity that day. Choose another day close to it.
* Send them something cheerful in lieu of the personal contact.
Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy holiday season! And for those on my Christmas/Hannukah card list…I am trying…no promises this year:)