Dementia, Drumsticks and Dressing

Dealing with Dementia During the Holidays

TurkeyAs a caregiver to a mom with dementia for the past 15 years, I have found ways to make it easier on my husband, myself and Mom during the holidays. Here are a few of my suggestions for family caregivers and their carees with Alzheimer’s and other dementias during this season. I hope at least one of these will make your lives  bit easier.

First, try to have family dinners at home as pot lucks. After many years of being stressed out driving Mom to family events across the Bay bridge from San Jose to San Francisco and or Oakland I decided enough was enough. Mom has separation anxiety as many persons with dementia do. Every time we attended a family dinner she feared I was going to leave her at a cousin’s house. At times I wish I could but I never would do that.

She also never remembered where the bathroom was. All through dinner I had to keep getting up and showing her where it was. I never enjoyed myself. I had to explain that we got on the freeway and that we were visiting and she was indeed going back home with me. About three years ago I decided to have family Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners here at our home. That way mom feels safe at home and when the crowd is overwhelming I take her upstairs to her room.She was even adventurous and tried the tur-duckhen that we roasted.

Surprisingly when I explained to family that Mom just can’t travel due to severe arthritis and anxiety they have started bringing side dishes on the holidays. Hubby just smokes the turkey on the grill which is juicy and awesome and I make dessert. Problem solved. If you don’t have a lot of family to provide side dishes you can have an intimate dinner at home where they feel safe and make it just as special plus you wont have people taking too many left overs .

Cook family familiar foods. A I mentioned in another post some persons with dementia don’t remember food choices that are out of their norm. We will never go to Sushi again (long story); remember the dancing lobster? She enjoys the Country buffet of chicken and mashed potatoes.I try to cook food from her childhood growing up in Oklahoma on her grandpa’s farm. I am blessed to have my grandmother’s cook books and church members’ recipes.

When asked what to get your caree as a gift I suggest large print puzzles, warm blankets, Alzheimer’s games. There are a lot of good ones on Amazon now .

Let them help. My mom seems to be staying in the second stage which her physician thinks is strange. They test her all the time and can’t figure out why. In our case she is forgetful but she is still able to carry on conversations and recognizes those of us in the house. She loves to help. If your caree is able, here are a few holiday activities that my mom enjoys

  • Decorating the tree,
  • Reading a story to my little niece,
  • Folding napkins and
  • Setting the table.

It really makes a difference when we include Mom in even the smallest activities. She lights up and it makes her day.

Watch old movies and sing old holiday carols. My parents had me at a late age and I appreciate that. I know a lot about old Hollywood and historical events that I think a lot of people my age have no clue about. They saved old newspaper clippings and Life magazines that I still have. Listening to old music and watching old movies gives them something positive to reminisce about  .

I do know my mom has her favorite parts of the turkey. She loves dark meat with lots of gravy. She didn’t know I saw her last year but I saw her switch plates with mine  coming back from the punch bowl. Thankfully neither of us had began to eat. She was pretty quick. With those moves, I still think she was a spy at some point. She did work at the naval yard when I was little.

These are just a few suggestions. Depending on what stage your caree is in some of these may not be applicable to them. One thing that is universal is that you slow down, create a peaceful environment if you can and enjoy the time you have left with them even if they steal your turkey leg when you aren’t looking.

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5 thoughts on “Dementia, Drumsticks and Dressing

  1. Avatar of ThedogmamaThedogmama

    What wonderful, thoughtful and accurate suggestions. Any change is so difficult for a person with dementia, thank you for putting into words that others will understand. Too bad hospitals and nursing homes don’t always understand these concepts. Have a Happy Thanksgiving – and hang on to your drumstick!

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  2. Avatar of ejourneysejourneys

    Great, low-stress suggestions. I love that your family jumped right in with bringing side dishes and that you’re all enjoying the holidays together.

    Reply
  3. Avatar of PegiPegi

    What lovely traditions you have started for your Mother for the holidays! These are all wonderful suggestions, many of the are useful for all types of carees to make them feel included. Now that you’ve removed the stress, wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving! (BTW do I want to know what a tur-duckhen is?)

    Reply
  4. Donna A Menner

    I’m blessed that my 91 year old mother only has the beginnings of dementia. I think it is important to let them do as much as possible for a holiday dinner so they feel needed. My mom made the sauce for the cauliflower and the turkey gravy, it takes her longer than it used to, but I sat down and let her do it, and stayed out of her way, otherwise she would feel like I was watching over her to be sure she did it right like she was a child. I was able to monitor what she was doing since she was using a stove. She wanted to do more for the dinner but I knew that it would make her back hurt, I think what she did should be enough. It is very important to let them feel needed and a part of the family get together for as long as possible, it is good for their morale.

    Reply

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