Reducing Holiday Stress For Our Aging Parents

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2013-08-21 18.30.24Holiday get togethers with family are notoriously stressful, especially when an aging parent or grandparent has a problem with remembering things.  It may be diagnosed as dementia or not, but you can tell that your aging parent has memory loss problems. When this is happening in your life, there are things you can all do to reduce the stress on aging parents and yourself during a family gathering.
 
When a family member is living with memory loss, even in the early stages, we need to acknowledge it and adapt.  The extra movement and activity, as well as the mood of gatherings have an impact on a person who is affected with any form of memory loss or forgetfulness.  We can start by accepting that the changes in our aging loved ones are not within our control and that we need to be aware and respectful with extra consideration.  Denial and pretending it’s all the same as it was in the past are not workable.
 
Things within the brain of a person with memory loss, cognitive impairment or dementia are not the same as before the onset of these issues.  On the outside, your loved one may look the same, and their surface conversation may seem rather normal, at least in the early stages.  But keeping up with the rapid social banter,  and normal conversational exchanges may become difficult for the person who has memory loss and problems processing information.
 
Here are 3 things anyone in a family can do to make things easier for the person who has memory problems.  Confusion and difficulty keeping track of information can be embarrassing for them.
 
1.  Avoid overstimulating your loved one.  Too much of a party, longer hours than normal and upsetting the usual routine can cause distress. Watch over your loved one and offer her an early exit if the evening stretches out past her usual bedtime.
 
2.  Speak a little more slowly and carefully to and around your loved one. This does not suggest treating him like a child.  It’s about being considerate of the changes of aging. Do not expect the level of participation from him that you enjoyed in the past.  He’s different now and may have more trouble engaging and answering questions.  Keep it simple.
 
3.  Share the responsibility.  If an aging parent has cognitive impairment, those who look after them have a full time job.  Give the primary caregiver a break and take a turn at being the caregiver for the evening. If that’s a sibling, she’ll likely appreciate the relief you offer.  That can be an excellent gift from you.  If the primary caregiver is happy, your aging parent will feel it.
 
 A face to face visit during holidays can be an opportunity to start the discussion with your loved ones about their future.  If family is gathered, take time before or after a celebration to meet and talk over who can do what and get input from other family.  Working together when possible to help aging parents can save a lot of stress later on.  And include your aging parent in the discussion.  Honoring her preferences when possible is a good start to keeping her safe as she ages.
 
Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt
 

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