By Lee Ann Stedman
As the holidays approach, families nationwide are making plans for annual family gatherings.
Annual visits offer elderly family members time to share these special occasions with their brood, and everyone has a chance to reconnect. During these busy gatherings, it may be very important to be conscious of and discuss in advance the limitations of the elderly family member, particularly if that elder is experiencing diminished physicality, or some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s. With elders in mind, families may want to consider the following tips as the holidays approach.
In the elderly person’s home:
1. Offer to help put up some decorations, such as a tabletop tree, religious presentation or cherished holiday decorative pieces. Avoid distracting blinking lights or ornaments that appear fragile or edible.
2. Do respect their space – place coats and other temporary items in a spare room. Make sure their bedroom is kept clean and quiet in case they need to lie down.
3. Do not insist on any permanent rearranging of their furniture during this visit. There are certainly occasions when this is warranted especially if they are now using a walker, but a public family gathering is not the time.
4. Bring most of the meal items in your own containers in order to keep the kitchen chaos to a minimum. Have everyone contribute. If there is a family member living in the same home as a caregiver, consider this a time to give them a restful break from the kitchen, too.
5. Plan an activity that everyone can participate in such as taking a walk, wrapping presents, helping with holiday cards, looking at photographs, listening to short stories. Planned activities that all ages enjoy can lower the stress of the occasion and encourage positive communication.
6. Be mindful of children. Remind children not to pick up and play with everything they see, or better yet, ask the elder ahead of time if you can help put some of those distractions away.
In your home:
1. Create a clear pathway for walking. Be careful of throw rugs and wires.
2. Create a quiet, private space for the individual, including a bathroom if possible, in case a nap is in order, or a lengthy visit to the toilet. The elder will most definitely appreciate the privacy. Remember, someone may need to assist, and elders don’t always want everyone to know that they need help.
3. Encourage your loved one to help in the kitchen. Much of the activity will be centered there, so create a comfortable place where they can sit and participate by folding napkins, putting together a relish tray, or sorting the silverware. Keep them involved in the conversation and give them a chance to talk.
4. Give them more of an introduction than, “Mom this is Sue.” Explain your relationship with that person. Suggest a common interest. Compliment your loved one on something to give these new acquaintances something to talk about. By doing so, you will enlist the help of your guests in giving your family member the attention they crave.
Regardless of the location:
1. Slow the pace of activities to allow the elderly person to keep up.
2. Have the meal in the early afternoon to make time for a nap or rest in the evening. Those with Alzheimer’s may suffer from what is called “Sundowner Syndrome,” where they are more anxious or combative in the late afternoon, early evening. Try to wind up the festivities earlier, if that is the case.
3. Think about nametags. Those with dementia aren’t the only ones who have a tough time remembering names.
4. If you are a guest, your offer to assist and/or engage the elderly individual in conversation is most appreciated.
5. Do whatever you can to avoid family squabbles and encourage everyone to put aside their differences to celebrate family.
During holiday gatherings, you may also wish to quietly evaluate how your loved one is getting along with others. There are several signs you should look for, and depending on your observation, you may choose to have a serious and private conversation with your loved one about their well-being. For information on how to conduct your evaluation, please visit our website at www.mdcircleofcare.com and click on our blog.
Circle of Care is bonded, insured and duly licensed by the State of Maryland’s Office of Health Care Quality as a Residential Services Agency. Circle of Care is a proud member of the Maryland National Capital Homecare Association.