Clubs and Organizations
December 15, 2015
The holiday season is a special time to spend reminiscing with family about special memories and traditions while creating new ones. For members of a family living with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, this can often be a difficult time. For the one with memory impairment, the change in routine and sensory overload the holiday season brings can cause stress and take away the ability to enjoy time spent with family and friends. The Orchard Assisted Living & Memory Care in Katy specializes in person-centered care, and this holiday season it is sharing helpful advice about how caregivers and families can create the best environment and situation for loved ones living with dementia.
"For seniors, the holiday season is a special time to connect with family and pass along traditions and memories," said James Stroud, President of The Orchard Assisted Living & Memory Care in Katy. "For those living with memory loss it is still possible to have a special holiday experience. The key is finding ways to still include your loved one in those traditions. For instance, if your mother was always in charge of baking cookies, you could set aside time to make cookies together. This will allow for you to create new memories that include your loved one, while sharing a familiar and pleasant experience."
Stroud recommends bringing the holidays to a loved one living with dementia. Hold a holiday get-together in the individual's or caregiver's home, instead of travelling to another location. If that's not possible, limit the amount of time spent away from the normal environment to no more than two hours. It is also a good idea to carry on traditions in a smaller setting and keep things simple. Watch for signs of discomfort, anger, fatigue, overstimulation or a sense of being overwhelmed, and take the individual home if those signs arise. Patience is the real key to success and knowing that it may take trial and error to determine what will make a loved one feel content.
"It can be upsetting for a family to change the location of Christmas dinner or make adjustments to accommodate a loved one who is living with dementia," said Erica Willis of The Orchard Assisted Living & Memory Care. "Family members who have a preconceived notion about how the day will unfold can forget that when family comes together things don't always go as planned. Especially when a loved one with memory loss isn't able to participate as they once could, it could feel like a letdown. You have to remember that your loved one still deserves the same dignity and respect as anyone else in the family, and you may need to change some traditions or plans to make that individual comfortable."
She also recommends that families should be conscious of providing a secure environment and consistency for their loved ones, especially during meal time. A loved one should be able to enjoy the meal and the time spent together, but a lot of noise and chaos may lead to feelings of stress or concerns about personal safety, as well as a reduction in appetite. With this idea in mind, some families may decide to go over to a loved one's home for a meal instead of bringing him to them.
"Remember that it is important to keep your loved one on his or her routine and schedule. Major shifts and changes can cause stress and agitation," said Stroud. "If your loved one is going to attend holiday celebrations at your home and he or she lives in an assisted living environment, you could consider inviting a caregiver as well. This would provide a sense of consistency and security for your loved one, and the caregiver will know all of the nuances and preferences that can be extremely helpful."
For someone living with dementia, proper nutrition is often a challenge, and during the holiday season this can take on a whole new meaning. The holidays mean large gatherings around the table sharing special foods and indulging when we normally keep our belts a little tighter. While it is okay to loosen your belt, it is also important to consider the dietary needs of loved ones living with memory loss in attendance and ensuring that they are able to enjoy the meal too.
"Even though we are all in need of proper nutrition to remain healthy and strong, for a person living with dementia, having a well-managed diet is a challenge as their cognitive function declines," said Karl Rosenbusch of The Orchard Assisted Living & Memory Care. "Many often struggle with the ability to use eating utensils, become overwhelmed with their food choices and even forget to eat altogether. These challenges can lead to changes in behavior and weight loss, causing more problems for their overall health and well-being. These struggles often become amplified during the holiday season with new settings, people and noises that might cause stress. That is why it's critical for families to think about their loved ones in advance and take extra steps to help family members living with dementia to enjoy the holiday meal."
He stresses that the key is to provide quality meals while emphasizing simplicity, and he suggests that it is important to always keep an open mind. An easy way to accomplish this is by using fresh or natural ingredients to make everything from scratch. That way, the dishes are high quality and taste delicious. By staying away from boxed and canned goods, you can raise the quality of even the most basic holiday dishes. To help maintain a balanced diet, cut down on high amounts of fats, sugars and sodium, which will benefit the entire family.
"It is also critical to remember that having too many options and choices can seem overwhelming, so instead of having everything presented at once, slow the process down by offering sides first, then meats and so on," said Stroud. "This encourages independence by allowing the person to make choices based on their own preferences, thus allowing them to truly enjoy the meal. Most important, remember to remain flexible; just because the family is having lunch doesn't mean that breakfast isn't an option. You have to keep in mind that your loved ones may not remember that they already had breakfast, so if they want cereal or scrambled eggs, it is more important for them to eat something they choose than to try to make them eat something that doesn't sound appetizing. For many seniors, food is the only thing that they still have any control over. When you can provide them a meal specific to their needs and it tastes outstanding, you give them something special, especially during the holiday season."
Rosenbusch stresses that individuals living with dementia can eat the same foods as everyone else. He is sharing one of his favorite recipes this holiday season. He hopes that the traditional holiday stuffing recipe below will be a delicious side dish for area families to enjoy.
The Orchard Assisted Living & Memory Care's Famous Holiday Stuffing
1 Cup Chopped Celery
½ Cup Chopped Garlic
1 Cup Chopped Yellow Onion
3 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Loaf Sliced Bread
Begin by laying the bread flat on a sheet pan and toast in the oven until golden, then cut bread into diced squares. In a pot cook the 3 cups chicken stock, celery, onion, garlic, and thyme. Then add seasoning to taste. Mix everything together well and place into a baking pan, and cook uncovered in the oven until the top is golden.
At The Orchard everything goes back to person-centered care, and ensuring that all residents' needs are met individually can be as easy as spending time with them. Staff members practice this standard by getting to know the residents they care for. Caregivers are encouraged to eat meals with the residents in their care so that they may learn their habits and preferences, allowing for the opportunity to understand the residents and their wants when they cannot express their needs themselves.
"Our goal is to be a resource for families living in Katy and the surrounding area," said Stroud. "Our staff provides person-centered care that caters to each individual, and we recommend that families adjust their holiday plans to accommodate the personal preferences of loved ones living with dementia. The holidays can still be a time to have purpose-filled experiences together, while creating new memories together."