All posts by Samantha Colaianni

5 Easy and Enjoyable Activities to Share with Older Loved Ones

By HomeCare Assistance, ALCA Corporate Partner

As our family members and friends reach their later years in life we glean the opportunity to slow down and appreciate our time with them. There are a variety of activities that they can do in that offer the opportunity to stimulate and exercise them physically, mentally and emotionally to ensure a holistic approach to maintain overall health and happiness.

In this article, we’ll go over 5 enjoyable activities seniors can partake in that’ll help inspire them to keep loving and learning.

#1 – Exercise

Exercise is one of the best activities someone in their later years can do. Of course, the types of exercises one can do will depend on their state of health, mobility and flexibility. Exercise has a variety of benefits which include increased blood flow to vital organs, cardiovascular (heart benefits), maintenance of muscle mass, cognitive improvement and overall flexibility and mobility of limbs and joints.

Depending on mobility and energy levels, some great exercises including walking, swimming, biking, chair exercises, leg raises, arm circles and body weight air squats.

Exercise (along with diet) serves as the foundation for a healthy body and mind and should always be a priority even in a senior’s later years!

#2 – Puzzles or Board Games

As you age, it’s normal to experience some level of cognitive decline including processing speeds or reduction in attention span, which makes it important to actively engage in various types of mentally stimulating activities to help keep sharp.

Games and puzzles are a great way to mentally stimulate your brain to help maintain cognition such as memory, attention and processing speed. Games and puzzles also make learning fun and at times exciting which is a great way seniors can engage while learning and maintaining their brain’s health.

Some studies have shown that doing crosswords or puzzles may help maintain cognitive health and prevent further memory loss. Reading can also be a part of this activity as it also helps stimulate verbal fluency and imagination.

#3 – Arts and Crafts

Creating art, whether it be in the form of paintings, sculptures, jewelry or even knitting can be a great activity as it allows for creativity and stimulation of the senses including sight, touch and sound. In addition, it’s nice to play music while engaging in making art as it helps provide a soothing and relaxing touch which helps you really get in the moment and engaged with what you’re doing.

For many, making art is a form of meditation so this can be a great way for seniors to relax and enjoy their time.

#4 – Visit a Pet Shop

Many studies have shown that animals like cats and dogs can help induce calmness, relaxation and feelings of well-being for seniors. Visiting a pet store every so often and being around some happy felines and pups can be a great way for seniors to stay in touch with their furry friends while getting a dose of happiness and comfort.

Even better, many seniors choose to have a (usually small) dog of their own. Dogs are a great companion to have around the house which helps prevent feelings of loneliness or isolation. It also helps induce feelings of responsibility and provides some routine and structure since you have to stay on top of taking care of them.

#5 – Movie Night!

Movie nights can be a great way to bring family and friends together to enjoy a classic film and entertainment for a couple hours. They provide the opportunity to have discussion before and after the movie to build excitement and “recap” parts of the film everyone enjoyed which is mentally stimulating.

If possible and nutritional guidelines allow it, prepare some popcorn or Ice cream for everyone to enjoy during the movie to make things more fun.

Picking a classic or favorite that your senior friend or family member loves is a great way to help remember old times while bringing up good memories and feelings.


HomeCare Assistance is an ALCA Corporate Partner. Thousands of families across the nation trust Home Care Assistance for their warm, welcoming and family-style assistance programs which help improve the quality of life and comfort of seniors across the nation! You can find more information at homecareassistance.com.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

An Aging Life Care Specialist, Her Client, and a Cup of Tea

An Aging Life Care Specialist, Her Client, and a Cup of Tea

by Miriam Zucker, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM

As Aging Life Care Specialists, much has been written about the concrete services we provide: homecare arrangements, assessments, liaisons with doctors. But what about those intimate moments when we are sitting across the table with a client? It is the foundation on which all chances of success are planted. Possibly, it occurs in the beginning of a relationship when we are trying to get to know our client, or more importantly, the client is trying to figure out, ‘why is this stranger in my house’?  A cup of tea can help.

It has been my experience that too much coffee and tea can be a good thing. A few days ago, after visiting a client at White Plains Hospital Center, I stopped by their recently opened café for a cup of coffee and a freshly made gluten free blueberry tea cake. The hospital is known for its good care and the café is now following in that tradition, albeit gastronomically. As for the tea cake, it was delicious. I do not have food allergies, but I do have a weakness for a good piece of plain cake.

Twenty minutes later, I arrived in Harrison, New York, at the home of a client.  The taste of the coffee was clinging to my palette and I secretly wished I had bought another of those sweet treats for later. Hearing the bell, Helena*, after looking through her mail slot, opened the door, always suspicious of who is knocking (which is not a bad thing). Recognizing my name, she let me in. Sometimes I am sequestered in her foyer for the visit and other days I am escorted into the kitchen. Today was a kitchen day. We started our conversation and then, as it progressed, she asked if I wanted a cup of tea. Did I really want to forgo that lingering taste of coffee for tea?  Truthfully, no, but I happily accepted.

Why did I say “Yes” when I could have just as well said “No, I just had coffee?” It all has to do with purpose in our clients’ lives. It’s a life quality that starts to wane as one gets older. You’re told to stop driving because you had a couple of fender benders; now you can’t visit your home bound friend or be a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels. And then the greatest upset of all, your spouse passes away. No one to cook that special dish which brought such accolades despite its simplicity.  Such was the case with Helena. There was no longer anybody to make that cup of tea for, so how could I ever think of saying, “No”? I sat at the kitchen table and watched her take the crackled and stained mug out of the cabinet.  Water boiled, she carefully handed me my tea, mystified as always, that I take it plain.

The act of making the cup of tea for this Age Life Care Specialist was both an act of kindness and the momentary gift of purpose. As for the taste of the coffee no longer lingering on my palette, it was surpassed by the opportunity to return to Helena a memory of time that was sweet, if not sweeter, than my blueberry teacake. It was a very good visit and the very essence of what the Aging Life Care profession is all about.

*names have been changed.


Miriam Zucker LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM, is the Founder of Directions in Aging based in New Rochelle, New York. She is proud to say that after a year of sitting in Helena’s vestibule, she is now warmly welcomed into her kitchen for her weekly cup of tea.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

This Valentine’s Day, Look for the “Sweetness” in Caregiving

By Lisa Laney, MSW, CMC

“My mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates…”

This line from Forrest Gump chimes a bell to those of us providing services to families involved in elder care…. and as the quote continues, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

As much as our culture appreciates and utilizes How-To books and YouTube videos for anything from how to do your own household repairs to how to scramble an egg, there is not a one-size-fits-all primer to prepare us for elder care.  An additional stressor is that there is no crystal ball to predict the length of time nor the level of intensity required for us to be in this foreign & unique role of caregiver.

Each day in the caregiving world delivers a different flavor and sometimes multiple flavors in one day.  How is the caregiver to treasure and taste the sweetness of being a care partner in the midst of so many unknowns?

Support Group –     I cannot say enough about the benefit of attending the RIGHT support

Whew-                     Recognize some days are terribly hard, and that tomorrow is a new day

Education –             Research your loved one’s disease process, learn what to expect

Exercise-                 You hear this all the time-  It is true for your mental & physical health

Toast –                     Gratitude.  Make time to find moments for which to be grateful

Never Say Never-   Please do not promise your parent deliverables that you may not be able to deliver

Escape-                   Charging your batteries via time away is vital.  Schedule & go on  micro vacations

Sing Out Loud-       Belt it out in the shower, sing anything (old jingles, carols) with your loved one

Solicit Help –           Know that variety is good for you and your loved one, share the load

A few years into my practice, a lecture I attended had an ever lasting impact upon my perspective on caregiving.  A daughter was describing the needs of her elderly mother and the duties required to support her at home.  Many people provided her with sympathy, to which she quickly replied, “No, this is a gift to me, although the load is heavy and difficult, I am thankful to have had the opportunity”.


About the Author: Lisa has worked with the aging population in the healthcare system since 1988.  She obtained her BSW from Appalachian State University and her MSW from UNC-CH with dual concentrations in Aging and Health.

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

How Do You Know It’s Dementia When Dad Can Still Do the Crossword?

By Deborah Liss Fins, LICSW, ACSW, CMC

The onset of early dementia is not always obvious. Especially when your loved one is smart and can compensate for memory loss, or is clever and determined to hide symptoms, it can be difficult to know whether what seems “off” is really so.

Maybe your dad has always been a dapper dresser, and you notice him wearing a stained shirt on more than one occasion. When you mention it, he shrugs it off and says he’s having his eyes checked next month (despite the fact that he has no trouble surfing the Internet on his smartphone).

Or your mom, ever the vigilant money manager, who always paid bills ahead of time, has some unopened, month-old invoices on her desk. You point them out, and she laughs and informs you she’s now paying online (even though she’s always mistrusted online fund transfers).

Or perhaps your great aunt, the most punctual person you have ever known, comes late to a luncheon date without calling. Once she reassures you that she’s fine, she explains that she misplaced her car keys and also missed the turn for the restaurant (where you always meet).

How Have Things Changed?

For all three scenarios, the explanations may seem logical, possibly true. But if the incidents repeat often enough to indicate a pattern of unusual behavior, it’s time to be more vigilant about the real chance that something more serious is at play.

At the crux of the issue is determining how your loved one’s behavior has changed relative to what has been normal for that individual. For someone who is smart and able, the changes may be subtle. And even if there are notable changes, he or she may be able to compensate creatively and still be able to do the New York Times crossword. Then the question becomes how much loss of ability is too much.

For example:

Can he still manage his own medications? Warning signs include a pill minder box with lids open out of order, pills not taken that should have been, or empty pill bottles that have not been refilled.

Does she leave bills unpaid or stacks of mail unopened? Especially for someone who was once very organized, increased clutter can be a warning flag. Missed payments, tax returns that were never filed, a bank account that hasn’t been balanced in months—all add up to a decline in cognitive functioning.

Is he at risk driving? Aside from slower reflexes, declining sight and increased fatigue—all good reasons to have driving skills evaluated—your loved one may evidence poor judgment, confusion or forgetfulness, all of which could endanger his safety and others on the road.

Has her appearance changed? Again, the standard of comparison is how your loved one normally presented herself to the world. If she always wore meticulously applied make-up, had every hair in place and dressed impeccably, and now seems less attuned to her appearance, she may have decided that she doesn’t want to bother with it all anymore. But she may also be less aware.

What’s at Stake for You?

Recognizing that your loved one is declining brings challenges beyond mere observation. There is a significant emotional hurdle to overcome: recognizing that your aging parent is vulnerable, admitting to yourself that his or her time on earth is limited, accepting that the status quo no longer works. You may have a lot of other demands on your time, and the idea of taking this on can seem overwhelming.

It can also be extremely difficult to confront your loved one with your observations, depending on the history of your relationship. A parent who has always maintained the upper hand, who insists on control, or who is belligerent and critical when challenged can be a nightmare to deal with.

For all of these reasons, if you suspect that your loved one is showing signs of dementia that could put her at risk, consider having an Aging LifeCare Professional® conduct an independent assessment. This information can provide the basis for informed—and mediated, if necessary—discussions with your loved one about next steps. And you may be surprised that you’re not the only one who is relieved to finally address the issue. Your loved one—whether or not she admits it—may be, too.

About the author: President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care® manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

6 Ways to Make Traveling with Older Adults Smooth Sailing

The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start mapping out vacation and travel plans for the coming months. Just because someone’s reached a certain age, it doesn’t mean they can no longer travel. Traveling with aging loved ones just takes a little more planning and preparation. These tips for aging travelers will make traveling and vacationing more comfortable and less stressful for all involved.

There’s No Age Limit on Travel

By Patricia Charles, LMSW, CMC – Aging Life Care Association™ Member

Whether you have fond memories of lazy days on the beach or adventures in exotic locales, now that your loved one is getting older taking a family vacation may seem difficult. You may even wonder if your days of family vacations are over.

While your family vacation will be different than before, it doesn’t mean you can’t travel with an aging loved one. Let’s explore some tips to make vacationing easier for the older traveler.

1. Schedule a check-up.

An important first step is to make sure your loved one is cleared for travel by his or her primary care doctor, especially if they have a health condition that requires accommodation. Visiting the doctor before travels allows time to assess and address any medical conditions that could hinder travel plans.

If travel is taking you out of the country, your loved one may need vaccines recommended for the countries being visited. Check the Center for Disease Control for the most updated information on necessary shots required for specific countries. Take this information with you when you visit the doctor.

2. Compile a list of medications in advance.

Ask the doctor for specific travel tips as well as any necessary medications. In addition to keeping up  regular medication regimen while traveling, the doctor may also recommend additional medications such as remedies for motion sickness, altitude illness, or diarrhea. Remember – it’s important to watch out for possible drug interactions between daily medications and any new medications that are recommended for travel!

If you are checking luggage, it’s recommended to travel with medications in a carry-on in case checked luggage is lost. Pack enough medicine for the duration of the trip, plus a few days extra in case of travel delays.  Additionally, if your loved one has health concerns and you are traveling out of the country you may want to consider purchasing a travel health insurance package.

3. Strategize your flight times.

Older adults may not have the stamina to handle multiple connections and/or travelling early morning or late at night.  Booking a nonstop flight reduces travel time, while planning a mid-morning or early afternoon departure can help avoid fatigue before you’ve reached your destination.  Anticipate your loved one might be anxious about the travel experience, so talk to their doctor about a mild anxiety medication. Even the most experienced travelers can find travel to be an anxiety-inducing experience.

4. Request assistance ahead of time.

Before you travel, consider accommodations your loved one may need. Does he or she use a wheelchair or need special seating? You can request an escort from airport staff to help get your loved one to their seat, stow their bags, or simply enjoy the ease of boarding before other passengers.

Seniors are able to request assistance in the airport from the time they arrive to the time they board,  and can request assistance getting to the gate by asking at the check-in desk for a ride on a cart or assistance with a wheelchair. Additionally, seniors requiring special assistance can board before other travelers through priority boarding.

Don’t forget to plan for accommodations at the destination as well! Contact hotels or tour companies to make sure they can handle your needs.

5. Plan activities sparingly.

When traveling with an older loved one you may have to take it slower than you normally would, accounting for time to rest and relax . Everyone is different, but in many cases planning just one activity before lunch is enough and include downtime between lunch and dinner. This same schedule often works well for families with young children, so inter-generational travel can work out surprisingly well!

Think about planning indoor activities, whether to account for possible bad weather or extreme temperatures, or because your loved one simply doesn’t feel up to going out one day.  Building in time for watching old movies, playing card games, or creating a memory book of your travels are all possible activities.

If your loved one receives care at home and you will be traveling without hired assistance, speak with the caregiver  to get some ideas about things they like to do, as well as their daily routine. And don’t forget to ask about favorite foods and snacks!

6. Consider hiring help.

An Aging Life Care Professional™ can help you develop a personalized plan for your travels including identifying potential challenges and options to make the best of your travels – even with medical and functional challenges. For example, a care manager can help connect you with companion help at your destination, secure durable medical equipment, and ensure you have appropriate documentation and accommodations in case of emergencies.

Finally, don’t forget to have the time of your life.  Safe travels!

 

About the author: Patricia Charles, LMSW, CMC is the Lead Training Consultant with SeniorBridge. She  has been a social work professional in nonprofit and philanthropic organizations for the past 30 years and a member of ALCA since 2008. She is a highly skilled Aging Life Care™ Manager, as well as a lecturer and educator. You can email Patricia at pcharles@seniorbridge.com and follow SeniorBridge on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

5 Tips for Planning for the Future When a Parent Is Still Healthy

It’s easy to put off planning for a parent or loved one’s care when that person is still healthy and able to care for themselves. Rather than wait for a crisis to strike, take time to plan for how you can maintain your loved one’s  safety and quality of life. Here are five strategies to keep status quo. 

When An Aging Parent is Fine…Strategies to Maintain Status Quo

by Miriam Zucker, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM – Member of the Aging Life Care Association®

As an Aging Life Care Specialist™, I’m often contacted by family members asking for reassurance that they are not overlooking a need of an aging loved one. Because these are not emergency or crisis calls, these meetings give me an opportunity to discuss current care and future planning.

During a thorough assessment, I evaluate a broad array of areas including medical history, cognitive function, financial status, familial and community supports, as well as status of critical health and legal documents. When these questions don’t raise any red flags, I find myself having to reassure the family that they fortunate. But, at the same time, like a good scout – be prepared and practice prevention.

So just what is it I am telling families? It’s something like car maintenance. No squeaking brakes, or dashboard lights on, but you still bring your car in for maintenance. Some older adults, if you excuse the analogy, are just like that. Blessed with good health – realistic and accepting of their needs – they can remain safely in their homes.

To maintain status quo, Aging Life Care Specialists suggest five strategies:

1. A medic alert pendant or bracelet. Look for a system that has a fall alert built into its sensor. Unlike the commercials, there is no need to dial the phone, the sensor picks up on the fall and calls the designated numbers immediately.

2. Maintain a current list of all medications (and know where to find the list).

3. A notation of any food, medication, or latex allergies .

4. Prominently display a Community DNR (this is different than a hospital DNR).

5. A daily check-in call. Such calls allow for an adult child (or designated caller) to pick up on the slightest of changes in a parent’s cognitive status. Infections in older adults travel at lightning speed with altered mental status as one of the hallmarks that something is wrong. Urinary tract infections are notorious for causing this altered status.

One particular service that facilitates much of the above is Vial of Life . The Vial of Life program helps individuals compile their complete medical information and have it ready in their home for emergency personnel to reference.

These small but essential steps go a long way in helping an aging adult maintain his/her independence while at the same time living safely in their beloved home. Don’t wait for an emergency to seek the help of an Aging Life Care Specialist. Connect with one now to start the assessment process and build a maintenance plan that maximizes quality of life for everyone. Search for an expert at aginglifecare.org.

About the author: Miriam Zucker, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM, is an Aging Life Care Specialist practicing in Westchester County, New York. A social worker by training, she also serves on the faculty of The Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging and Longevity where she helped found the Certificate Program in Geriatric Care Management.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

Last Minute (But Thoughtful) Gift Ideas for the Older Adult

The last few shopping days are here and you’ve found yourself stuck thinking about what to give that special elder in your life. Here are some different and thoughtful holiday gift ideas for seniors that won’t clutter the house or require  an  engineering degree to assemble. 

Last Minute (But Thoughtful) Gift Ideas for the Older Adult

by Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC — Aging Life Care Association® Member and Fellow of the Leadership Academy

Many older adults say they really don’t need anything, but you feel you should give them a gift. What should it be?   Mom and Dad have the sweater you gave them last Christmas still hanging in the closet with the tags on…they say they want to save it for a special occasion.

Here are some gift ideas for seniors that are just a little bit different:

1. Pre-plant a large pot with spring blooming bulbs and help them place it where it will get the rain it needs now and necessary sun in the spring.

2. Buy tickets to an afternoon concert in a small, easy-to-access venue (a local college or church). Include a gift card for lunch at a favorite spot.

3. Make a scrapbook of pictures of you and your siblings as children over the years and add comments of “gratitude” on the pages about your memories of that day or event. What you remember might be different than what your parent remembered.

4. Give an iPod programmed with music from the time your parents were young adults. Include a good pair of headphones (not earbuds) and teach them how to use it.  This is also a great gift for those with dementia. If your loved one resides in a living facility or at home with caregivers, teach the caregivers and aides how to use the iPod and ask that they have music time once a day.

It is important to realize and understand that an aging adult’s inability to reciprocate gift giving often makes them feel “bad.” You being creative and sensitive to those seniors who express not wanting gifts shows respect, not lack of love.

About the author:  Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC, is the Founder and President of Eldercare Services in Walnut Creek, CA. She is also a partner of the VillagePlan. Linda is a Fellow of the Leadership Academy and a past-president of the Aging Life Care Association™. Linda has more than 30 years experience working as a Care Manager. You can reach her at linda@EldercareAnswers.com, or connect with her via social media: FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

Be Prepared: Making a Plan for Winter Weather

2017 has been the year of severe weather , and this winter may bring with it snow, freezing temperatures, ice,  or heavy rains. All of this greatly impacts the safety and well-being of the elderly, especially when weather events strike unexpectedly or with speed. Here are some tips from the experts in aging well to help aging adults get ready for winter weather.

Before a Storm
  • Stay informed and sign up for severe weather alerts through your local city or state resource
  • Refill prescriptions and have an extra supply of other medical necessities
  • Buy extra food, including non-perishables, and bottled water (and don’t forget pet food or supplies if needed)
  • Keep vehicles filled with gas and have tires checked for safety
  • Clear debris from downspouts and gutters
  • Have trees inspected and remove any dead limbs
  • Have evacuation routes planned with identified medical centers
  • Identify an individual or company to shovel snow from driveways, stairs
  • Make sure outside furnace vents are clear and carbon monoxide alarms are working
  • Inspect outside plumbing, insulating any exposed pipes
Prepare for Power Outages
  • If using oxygen, bi-pap, c-pap or other equipment, you will need a generator
  • Purchase battery operated, plug-in lights that automatically turn on when the power goes out
  • Make sure you have working flashlights within reach and extra batteries
  • Keep cell phones charging so you have a full charge at power loss
Plan for Caregivers
  • If you rely on caregivers, consider the following:
  • Arrange for a live-in caregiver
  • Build a relationship with neighbors that may be able to temporarily fill-in
  • Plan temporary or respite stay with a nursing home, assisted living community, or hospice
Safety
  • Keep areas around space heaters clear
  • Use space heaters with automatic shut-off
  • Gas stoves or ovens should never be used as a heating source
  • Do not attempt to climb ladders
  • Do not walk on frozen stairs, sidewalks, or driveways

For more winter weather tips and planning, visit the public safety website of Massachusetts – a state very familiar with severe winter weather.

With knowledge of local resources, An Aging Life Care Professional® can  build an emergency weather plan for your aging loved one. Find one to consult at aginglifecare.org.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

Making the Most of the Holidays When a Loved One Has Dementia

Celebrating the Holidays with Dementia

by Lisa Mayfield, MA, LMHC, GMHS, CMC, Principal, Fellow Certified Care Manager

The holidays can often be a time filled with high expectations, requiring lots of energy and engagement in non-stop activities. For the individuals and families living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, it can be challenging and a time of high anxiety. Festivities can agitate, confuse, and overstimulate persons living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Meanwhile, caregivers can feel anxious, frustrated, and lonely.

To minimize the anxiety and encourage a happy holiday season for the entire family, a little advanced thought and planning can go a long way in ensuring everyone has a wonderful time. Remembering that the holidays, at their best, are a time for enjoying one another’s company and sharing gratitude for each other can make some advanced planning go a long way.

Here are some stress busters that have worked for other families and might prove successful for your celebrations:

  1. Let guests know what to expect before they arrive. If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, it’s likely family and friends won’t notice any changes. The person with middle or late stage dementia may have trouble following conversation or tend to repeat him- or herself. Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts. Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disability and not the person. Understanding, acceptance and patience go a long way.
  2. Adjust expectations. The challenges of caregiving responsibilities combined with holiday expectations can take a toll. Invite family and friends to a conversation ahead of time. Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine, or making modifications to plans to minimize holiday stress. The goal here is time together. Your loved one will enjoy the company of friends and family. Let their presence be their present!
  3. Be good to YOU! This is often the hardest step. But giving yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage is one of the most precious gifts you can give yourself. If you’ve always had a large group at your home, consider having only a few guests for a simple meal. Let others participate by having a potluck dinner or ask them to host at their home. This is the time to be especially gentle and kind with yourself. This is also a great time to practice saying “No” and pace yourself.
  4. Involve the person with dementia. Focus on activities, traditions and memories that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums. Involve the person in holiday preparation. As abilities allow, invite him or her to help you decorate, prepare food, set the table, wrap packages, or address holiday cards.
  5. Maintain a normal routine. Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the holidays from becoming overly stressful or confusing. Plan time for breaks and rest. Make sure to have favorites at the ready: holiday music, movies, clothing and food. All these familiar favorites can bring comfort and build enjoyment into a holiday celebration.
  6. Use the buddy system. Plan ahead to have family and friends take turns being the buddy to your loved one. This is a great way to encourage one-on-one time as well as to shield the individual with dementia from distress. It also gives a break to the primary caregiver.
  7. Engage an Aging Life Care Professional®. Aging Life Care Professionals are the experts in aging well.  We understand dementia, aging, family systems, and the myriad of challenges and obstacles that families experience in caring for a loved one.  An Aging Life Care expert can help anticipate issues and address them before they happen, offering the options and wise counsel on how to navigate the holidays successfully. Our focus is on the well-being of the older adults in your life, while also helping you to care for yourself.  By engaging an Aging Life Care professional, you are working with someone who takes a holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults. Visit the Aging Life Care Association website to locate an expert near you.

By setting realistic expectations, involving others, maintaining a routine, and keeping activities and traditions to a select few, you can ensure yourself, your loved one, and family and friends a low stress, memorable, and successful holiday season.

Author Lisa Mayfield, MA, LMHC, GMHS, CMC, Principal, Fellow Certified Care Manager, founded Aging Wisdom® in 2003, recognizing early in her career that problem-solving and thoughtful, personalized care management were what most people needed, not therapy, to address the challenges and concerns of aging. When she discovered the Aging Life Care profession (AKA geriatric care management), she immersed her herself fully in the profession, and Aging Wisdom was born.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.

Make the Most of Holiday Visits: What to Look for When Visiting Aging Adults

Holidays are occasions that many of us spend with family, whether we live down the block or across the country.  For those with aging parents or loved ones, these visits are an important time to take stock amidst the hustle and bustle, and to make plans. 

Make the Most of Holiday Visits: What to Look for When Visiting Aging Adults

By Heather Imhoff, MSW, LMSW – Aging Life Care Association™ Member

Notable changes in an aging person’s appearance, behavior, or environment can be warning signs that his or her health, mentation, and function are changing.  Make the most of your holiday visits and note any changes from your last visit. If you notice changes, dig in while you are there to further assess the situation and determine if intervention or help is needed.

Start by Making Observations

Person-centered:

  • Has your loved one’s hygiene changed?
  • Is he or she wearing clothing that is dirty, falling apart or inappropriate for the weather?
  • Has there been a significant weight change?
  • Has his or her gait changed? Are they “couch surfing” or using furniture items for support while walking through the home?
  • Any bruises or cuts that you can see?
  • Are they using mobility or other adaptive equipment properly?

Behavior:

  • Has mom or dad stopped going out for social engagements? Discontinued activities that were important to them?
  • Do they have any new friends or organizations who they have a lot of contact with? Is anyone or any organization asking for repeated or large donations or loans?
  • Do they seem forgetful or more repetitious in conversation?
  • Does he or she seem more withdrawn or sad?

Environment:

  • Looking at their home environment, are there areas of disrepair? Obstructed walkways?  Burned out light bulbs?
  • Any changes in cleanliness of the home, especially in the kitchen and bathroom? Are there items piling up on counters, table tops, or spare rooms?  Unopened mail?
  • Check the fridge to see if there are expired or spoiled food items.
  • Does their car have scratches or other areas of damage?
Important Conversations

If any of these questions lead to concerning answers, it is vital to start a conversation with your loved one about your observations.  Try to remain open and curious, not making assumptions or judgement since issues great and small can lead to similar presentations.

Here’s an example:

Dad is wearing light summer clothing even though it seems too cold.  This may be because his cognition is declining and he is not oriented to what month or season it is.  Alternately, you may learn that most of his warmer sweaters have buttons and his advancing arthritis makes it difficult for him to manage these closures.  Perhaps his winter clothing is stored in the attic or a high shelf that is difficult to access because of strength or balance issues.  Or he may relay that he’s been very busy with his men’s group and just hasn’t gotten around to switching out his wardrobe.

It is important to understand whether your loved one is aware of the issues you’ve noticed, and if he or she sees it as a problem or not.   What are her thoughts, has she attempted to address the situation? What are the barriers that he or she has encountered to resolving the problem.

It can be difficult for someone with a lifetime of independence to admit that they need assistance.  Many of these red flag issues are highly personal in nature, so depending on the circumstances and the personality of the older person, these topics may need to be approached gently and with compassion.

Preferences and Health Care Wishes

Also consider talking about what is important to your loved one.  What gives them a good quality of life?  And a vitally important question: What are their health care wishes?  People fall all over the spectrum when it comes to thinking about, talking about, and making legal documents specifying their health care wishes.  Wherever your loved one falls on this spectrum, it is important to check-in regularly or in some cases, for the first time about their thoughts and preferences about medical care, where they want to live, and what they want their lives to look like.

If dad has already prepared legal documents designating health care decision-making agents and even some advance directives about treatment options, does he still feel the same?  Do the appropriate people and organizations have copies of these documents?  If this conversation has never been broached, test the waters.  See if this is a topic your loved one avoids or welcomes.

The observations made and conversations that take place during holiday visits are most often starting points rather than final conclusions.  Most of these topics are on-going and evolving as your loved one continues to age.  There are resources available in all states to help navigate elder support services and having as clear a picture as possible about what your loved one is struggling with will help target these resources.

A good starting point is your community Area Agency on Aging offices or connect with an Aging Life Care Professional™ in the area who can offer assistance.  Most importantly, enjoy your time together celebrating and giving thanks!

About the author: Heather Imhoff has eight years of experience as an Aging Life Care Professional in both publicly and privately funded sectors.  She is currently a care manager at EGIS Care & Support in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Follow Heather on Twitter at @egis_care or email her at heather.egisnm@aol.com.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.