November marked National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and education and fundraising are thriving to help those facing the demands of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. But, if you and your family are directly affected, you know that what you are experiencing isn’t contained to one designated month of the year. Regular, routine activities can feel like chores, communication can be difficult and family dynamics can get lost in a sea of tasks.
So when your to-do list includes making sure your bills are paid, that mom has taken her second dose of medications for the day, the dog has been walked and you have met a critical work deadline, what’s the best way to squeeze in some quality family time?
Research has shown that remaining socially active and connected with others can actually delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Deepening a familial bond is especially important for everyone in a family affected by Alzheimer’s disease; as a caregiver, you need to feel that you have the love and support of your siblings, friends and spouses. And, of course, grandkids need to feel like grandparents are still a part of their lives.
These tips will help you make the most of family time when Alzheimer’s has taken a seat at the table:
- Introduce yourself and all family members any time it seems necessary – don’t let unprecedented unfamiliarity keep you from missing a beat. Re-introduce yourself with a big smile as often as needed to keep the connection with your family member.
- Create together. Work on something meaningful, such as flower arranging, scrapbooking or writing letters. Consider what your mom or dad have always enjoyed doing and incorporate their talents and interests into your choice of activity.
- Reminisce! Talk about earlier days, discuss special memories or ask questions about an important time in mom’s life, like the day she got married or how it felt to ride a roller coaster for the first time.
- A good rule of thumb: quality over quantity. Short visits are just fine. Don’t get too hung up on the amount of time you are spending together. It’s the quality of that time spent as a family that counts.
- Get outside! There is a calming effect to being in nature, so enjoy some outdoor time in a secure area or go for a walk if the entire group is able and willing.
- Involve friendly pets. Animals are an unending source of unconditional love, and family members with dementia respond very well to this boundless energy.
- Bring conversation starters with you when you visit. Look through old photos or bring personal items to spark pleasant memories and prompt conversation.
- Start a ritual with your family member. Set a standing tea date, jigsaw puzzle time, exercise hour or watch an old movie together every Thursday night. It doesn’t matter what you do; rather, it’s the routine and the established day and time that helps with your family member’s disease.
It may take a bit more effort, but spending time as a family can be just as rewarding when a loved one has dementia. Once you are accustomed to doing what it takes to deepen your connection, you’ll find you get as much benefit out of it as your mom or dad. Remember: Focus on the person, not the disease, and find new and meaningful ways to connect using these tips.