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Posted: December 20, 2007

Spousal Caregiving

An Alzheimer's Caregiver's Christmas Wish

Bill Andrew

Have you ever thought of what preys on a caregiver's mind during the Christmas holiday season? I think this is an especially relevant question if it’s a spousal family caregiver and their loved one has Alzheimer's disease or a related cognitive/memory disorder.

For example, a loved one may be in the early stages of the disease process and the signs of early dementia may be disguised during the year when those afflicted can rely on habit and routine -- this has been called "clinical social façade," which means that they act normal to most people. However, when the holidays come, the routine is disrupted and the signals of problems become obvious. At large family gatherings, the loved one can become confused and not interact with the rest of the family as they used to. According to doctors who care for Alzheimer's patients, such gatherings during the holidays are a prime time to notice the early stages of dementia. Of course, there may be other less obvious signs that the loved one may be headed for an Alzheimer's diagnosis.

So what can the friends and family of loved ones and their spousal caregivers do for them during this holiday season? During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, it is not uncommon for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or related cognitive/memory disorder to become agitated, confused, and over-stimulated. Holiday festivities often create changes in the environment and daily routine. It is important to maintain your regular routine for your loved one while trying to provide a pleasant, meaningful, and calm holiday spirit for yourself. Caring for a loved one during the Christmas holidays can lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and loneliness.

Caregiver Survival Tips. Here are some tips for helping you, as a spousal family caregiver, to cope with the stresses incurred during the Christmas holidays:

Maintain your regular routine. It is critical for both your loved one -- and for yourself.

Maintain a positive mental attitude. Holidays are for memories and reflection as well as joy.

Permit yourself to say "no" to obligations or invitations that may come your way.

Permit yourself to ask for, and say "yes" to, offers of assistance for you and your loved one.

Encourage family and friends to visit but minimize the number of visitors to at any one time.

Prepare activities or tasks to divert your loved one's attention to prevent over-stimulation.

Take the opportunity to be with family and friends with or without your loved one.

Talk of past good times and special memories.

Plan small gatherings earlier in the day to facilitate your loved one's participation.

Involve the loved one in setting up the Christmas tree and decorations.

If your loved one is in a nursing facility, visit in small groups rather than one large one.

The Christmas holidays can be stressful for both you and your loved one. Planning ahead will reduce that stress.

Gifts for the Loved One. It is important to give gifts to your loved one that are appropriate for the stage of their Alzheimer's disease or related cognitive/memory disorder. Here are some suggestions:

Identification bracelet available through the Safe Return Program of your local Alzheimer's Association office.

Comfortable, easy-to-remove (and put on) clothing like slacks with an elastic waist, sweat suits, Velcro shoes, etc.

CDs of favorite music.

Memory aids such as a wipe-off message board and day-at-a-time calendar.

Photo albums including pictures of family/friends and places from years past.

Video tapes or DVDs of family events, musicals from the 40s and 50s, travel videos, etc.

Bird feeders, mobiles, snow globes, aquariums with fish, etc.

Simple games, puzzles with large pieces, etc.

Gifts for the Spousal Caregiver. The spousal caregiver could also use gifts that are appropriate for their respective caregiving responsibilities. If a friend or family member is a caregiver, here are some suggestions:

Coupons or gift cards for luncheon, respite care, transportation, needed items, etc.

Respite care provided by a family member or friend.

Respite care provided by a professional agency.

Homemaking assistance by family members, friends, or professional agencies.

Cleaning services including laundry/dry cleaning.

Assistance with meals -- frozen meals, hot dishes provided "just-in-time", meal services, etc.

Gift cards or certificates to restaurants or grocery stores.

Shopping for food for the caregiver -- or provide grocery dollars.

Ask the family caregiver what they would like you to do for them -- AND THEN DO IT!

These are just a "starter-set" of what you can do for yourself as a spousal family caregiver and what your family and friends can do for you and your loved one. Christmas is all about LOVE -- and that love starts with you and your immediate family and friends.

As a 24/7 Alzheimer's spousal family caregiver for my wife, Carol, for more than 13 years, I can attest to all of the above. However, the biggest gift that a spousal family caregiver can receive is the LOVE of their immediate family and friends. Often, the Alzheimer's journey turns out to be a long, lonely journey for the loved one AND the spousal caregiver. If I had but one wish as a spousal family caregiver, it would be for family and friends to visit more often and provide assistance without the need for asking.

What is your Christmas wish, if you are a spousal caregiver? If you provide support for a spousal caregiver, what Christmas gift will you be providing this Christmas for that caregiver? If the above suggestions don't provide any ideas, then ask the caregiver what they would like you to do for them -- AND THEN DO IT!

Carol and I wish each and every one of you a Blessed, Happy, and Merry Christmas! God bless you and yours. Merry Christmas!

Please e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com with your comments and/or reactions. I will include them in a future column with your permission. Provide your full name and address. In the column, I will only use your first name and the initial of your last name as well as your city and state. Thank you.

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace…"

Luke 2:14


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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© 2007 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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