Upcoming Holidays: Good Advice for Visiting Loved Ones with Dementia

“I read this great article about holiday visiting in the Columbus Dispatch” – Attorney David Engler

Good Advice for Visiting Loved Ones With Dementia
By Misti Crane

This upcoming holiday season of gathering, reminiscing and tradition also can bring sadness and uncertainty for those who love someone with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.

To make the most of holiday visits, caregivers and other relatives and friends should accept what can’t be fixed and learn to offer support and bring joy to those affected by the disease, experts say.

During visits, “you have to learn to suppress any feelings that you have, put a big smile on your face and try to be as cheerful as you can,” said Dr. Leopold Liss, medical director of the Columbus Alzheimer Care Center.

One in 10 Americans 65 and older suffers with dementia. It affects almost half of those 85 or older, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

People are prone to over-explaining reality when an evasive, yet truthful, answer would be best, Liss said.
Laralyn Sasaki, who lives in the Short North, said that her visits with her grandmother, who had dementia, improved significantly when she learned to answer questions that way.

“When she asked where her husband was, who had passed away several years before, we’d say, ‘You know, we haven’t seen him today’” said Sasaki, whose grandmother, Thelma Townsend, died three years ago at 97.

Learning to avoid correcting the person with dementia is essential, said Mari Dannhauer, program director at the Alzheimer’s Association of Central Ohio.

“We tell caregivers they’ve really won their last argument, because the person with dementia is not able to be rational in our world so, we kind of have to jump into their world.”

Insisting that someone remember your name is useless and potentially damaging, Liss said.
“You have to respect the fact that this is their reality. Don’t try to jerk them out of it because it might have negative results,” Liss said.

Helping also can mean avoiding things that create frustration.

Sasaki said she and her mother learned to tune into nature shows or old, happy movies rather than channels featuring current events and political candidates her grandmother didn’t recognize.

Her advice to others dealing with dementia is to visit loved ones rather than staying away out of fear of awkwardness or tension.

Sasaki was part of a team of people who volunteered their time recently to produce DVDs and CDs that feature Liss and offer caregivers advice.

At the holidays, caregivers should know that things don’t have to be perfect, nor do they have to be the same as every other year, Dannhauer said. Changing a home-cooked holiday party into a potluck can ease anxiety. And having family members visit in shifts rather than all at once can help, Dannhauer said.

She recommends involving the person with Alzheimer’s disease in activities such as singing carols or wrapping presents rather than assuming that they can’t or don’t want to participate. Interacting with children can be uplifting, and smiles and embraces are almost always a good thing, Liss said.

For information about central Ohio support groups and other resources for friends and family members of someone who has Alzheimer’s, call 1-800-272-3900 or visit http://www.alz.org/centralohio/

For information about The Art of Caring DVDs, go to http://www.theartofcaring.net/

Attorney David Engler
Phone: 330-729-9777
http://www.DavidEngler.com Attorney Engler’s website
Areas of Practice: Family Law, Elder Law, Domestic Relations, Bankruptcy, Criminal

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