This month is National Caregiver Month and National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. It can also be a hard time of year for those living with Alzheimer’s.
My own family was impacted 12 years ago as my husband Bill began to develop symptoms of the disease at only 52 years of age. Thanks to my healthy active parents, two wonderful sisters and a strong community network, we were able to care for Bill at home for most of the years he lived with the disease. The holidays were the most stressful for me however. We tried to keep our traditions alive for the first few years, going to the Nutcracker Ballet, cutting our tree from nearby forest land, walking in the annual Golden Holiday Parade. However, as the disease progressed Bill got more anxious about many of those cherished traditions. He worried about buying and wrapping gifts for me and other family members. Party invitations had to be carefully considered if there would be a lot of people because he was easily confused as well as embarrassed at not remembering names. He got frustrated at not being able to make the delicious meals he had enjoyed creating each year during the holidays. I found the tasks specially associated with the holidays as well as many others household chores falling to me alone. With advice from the Alzheimer’s Association, I finally took a hard look at what we were continuing to do each year that was causing me added stress and contributing to a general sense of exhaustion. Once we stopped to think about all the things we were doing, we refocused on what we truly loved the most and looked how to make those things just a little easier for both of us. By changing things a bit we could still manage to keep the joy in the holidays. Cutting the tree on forest land was still manageable if I was the one who used the saw, homemade items could be supplemented with store-bought goodies, friends could take Bill shopping for gifts and help him manage the money, and we could spend time celebrating with smaller groups of people that we really cared about.
This time of year will always be bittersweet for me having lost Bill to Alzheimer’s four years ago this coming February but his legacy lives on every time I share our story and offer insight about caregiving.
This month, take some time and look around your own life. Find the caregivers who need your love and support this holiday season. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. If you can be specific and suggest some ides of your own, you may find your offer is received and with a great deal of appreciation and relief. Offer to do errands like grocery shopping or picking up medications at the pharmacy. Drop by with a ready-to-cook meal. Give the gift of your time to sit with the person who is ill or needing a companion so the caregiver can take some time off. Offer to wrap gifts or do the decorating. Caregivers are often too busy to think about themselves and what they need in order to keep going. Let them know they aren’t alone. If you know someone who needs help caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia make sure they know about the Alzheimer’s Association. All of the services for individuals and families are free and just a phone call away. 800.272.3900 Many caregivers will tell you there was never any question about whether they would care for someone they love. Each and every day is a gift, every moment, even when things get tough, a treasured memory. Find a way to honor a caregiver in your life this holiday.