Q: My mom has Alzheimer’s disease, and I am her primary caregiver. I’m feeling overwhelmed as I think about all of the holiday prep. How can I simplify?
Answer: The holiday season can be a joyful but stressful time of the year, especially if you are managing many responsibilities. This can be especially true during the holidays, when we typically have a great deal more added to our plates than at other times of the year. It’s important to remember that it is OK this year not to try to do everything you have done in the past. Give yourself a break and reset your expectations. Try to stay positive and tap into your creativity to think up new, less taxing traditions.
Simplifying your holiday activities can help decrease stress. A holiday celebration does not have to be all or nothing. If you cannot put up all your decorations, choose and display just a few that have the greatest meaning or ask a friend or family member to help you decorate. Consider sending an email greeting instead of mailing holiday cards.
Keeping your mom’s limitations in mind should be helpful. Sometimes highly stimulating environments can increase stress for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Limit the number of people visiting at one time. Keep visits short and plan get-togethers for mornings or whatever time of day is best for your mom — the part of the day when she is likely to be more alert and engaged. This may mean changing an annual dinner to a brunch, for example.
Food is usually a big part of the holidays. If you are planning to prepare a meal, a few adjustments could save you time and stress. Simplifying the menu is a great way to start. Instead of having three desserts, just have one. You could purchase part of the meal from a grocery store or restaurant or ask others to bring a dish. Maybe another family member would want to host for this year.
Gifts are another big part of holiday traditions. You can save time by shopping online. Gift cards are a good idea, too. Or your family could consider drawing names, reducing the number of people you have to shop for from “everyone” to one!
If you are not able to travel to be with family and friends, you could use Skype, perhaps, to participate in a distant gathering. Send cards and messages ahead of time and ask family members to do the same. Share pictures with your mom and talk about special times spent with loved ones. Watch a special holiday movie together or an old classic movie that may spark warm memories.
Remember that self-care is essential this time of year. Be sure to recognize when burnout is threatening, and be proactive in taking care of yourself. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, and don’t overindulge in sugary sweets or adult beverages. Take time to get outside for a walk in the sunshine. Do not feel guilty about asking others for help so that you can take a break. Treat yourself to a massage or pedicure. Check online message boards or support groups for ideas and access them, too, if you’re so inclined, as a way to decompress and share with others how you’re feeling.
Avoid the “compare and despair” trap. This holiday may look different from those in the past, and the “new normal” for the holidays may bring on feelings of sadness. This is often to be expected, but the more you can accept the reconfigured plans and focus on the positive, the more you will be able to relax and enjoy the holidays. Time is precious, and the moments we have with loved ones are to be cherished.
Q: My uncle, who was a veteran, just passed away. With Veterans Day approaching, I’m wondering about the best way to honor his service and memory.
Answer: What a heartfelt idea it is to remember your uncle on this holiday. Veterans Day is Monday, Nov. 11. The date was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the end of World War I, which occurred “at the 11th hour of 11th day of the 11th month.” It originated as “Armistice Day” and was held on this same date in 1919. Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans — both living and dead — who have served their country during war or peacetime.
There are a number of different ways to honor your uncle’s service. Ideas can be as simple as flying a flag or helping trim grass and/or beautify the grounds at a local veterans cemetery. Another possibility is to volunteer with an organization that helps veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can help provide ideas for ways to give of your time to assist veterans who are sick or injured. Visit their website at https://www.volunteer.va.gov.
Locally, you and your entire family can honor and celebrate your uncle’s service at the annual Veterans Day parade on Saturday, Nov. 9, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. There will be a 21-gun salute at Corpening Plaza at the end of the parade. For more information, visit cityofws.org.
Senior Services offers an opportunity to “Adopt a Veteran” through its Williams Adult Day Center. The Williams Adult Day Center provides a structured program of meaningful activities, along with nutritious meals and snacks for older adults living with memory loss resulting from Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. Exercise, arts and crafts, and musical presentations are just a few of the activities that facilitate the interaction of program participants with staff, volunteers and each other. Medical supervision is included, as well as the opportunity to schedule onsite baths and hair and dental appointments. The staff provides compassionate care in this award-winning center specially designed with the needs of the participants in mind. There are currently 21 veterans receiving services at the Williams Adult Day Center.
A donation can be made in honor of your uncle. Just $53 provides a veteran a full day of care. One day a month for a year is $636. Any amount is welcome and is used to provide scholarships for veterans who wish to attend the Williams Adult Day Center more frequently than their government subsidies allow. For more information, contact Leigh Anne Groves at 336-725-0907. Senior Services feels it is important to ensure that these services remain available for veterans for years to come.
AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.