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Ask the Hippie


Embracing the Journey:  Knowing your Inner Hippie

By Phyllis DeLaricheliere, MS
It’s that time of year – THE HOLIDAYS!  Where plans are being made, traditions celebrated and families gather. It’s also a stressful time of year.  Add to that the overwhelming concerns for our loved ones with dementia and it creates the perfect ingredients for Anxiety pie.  So what do we do?  What plans can we make?  How should things be?  What’s the new recipe?
This is nothing better than a family working together.  We all have to play a role in supporting both a caregiver of dementia and the person on this journey.  Here are some tips to help you not “get through” the holidays but “ENJOY” the holidays as they are meant to be.
STEP 1:  Breathing.  As simple as it sound…take a deep breath (maybe two or three).  We need to get ourselves calm and get that oxygen flowing to our thinking caps!
STEP 2:  Traditions.  Look at what traditions are the MOST important in your household and decide those are the ones to keep.  Ask the caregiver what they would still like to do and allow them to give up on the things they are no longer interested in, without judgment. There comes a time when the torch is handed off to the next generation and perhaps this is a good time.
Next, look at the role the loved one with dementia played with some of these traditions.  For example, they always plugged in the tree to display the lights and kick off Christmas.  Perhaps now they can’t work the plug anymore so what can we do?  Simply add a foot button (Amazon $9.97) and light the tree in a new way!  Or if lighting the candles on the menorah was their job, perhaps get the ones that are battery operated that they can twist them on instead.  Get creative and don’t mourn what they can’t do – simply find a new way to do it!  Use your “creative side” your “HIPPIE” side of your brain.
STEP 3:   Game Plan. How many are gathering for the holidays?  What can be done to decrease the impact on our loved ones that have dementia?  Keep in mind that the person on this journey can only process one thing at a time. Multiple conversations around swirling about them or children screaming and chasing each other in the room can feel like a tsunami of sounds. This kind of stimulation can overload them and cause them to either lash out or shut down completely. Consider assigning different rooms for certain functions in order to keep your loved one in a space where they can enjoy the visual stimuli and wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen while being protected from the extremes.
STEP 4: Time.  It is important that we manage the amount of time both the caregiver and the person with the dementia are subject to during the festivities.  Reminder, the caregiver is exhausted and will feel a responsibility for their loved one with dementia.  All should share in that responsibility by simply asking what the caregiver needs.  However, having dinner and other important traditions done before 4: PM is a smart way to manage the disease.  So many of our dementia patients suffer from what’s called “Sun downing.”  As the sun goes down the anxiety goes up.  An early start and stop sets everyone up for success.
STEP 5:  Time Out.  As we prioritize traditions, establish a game plan and time, a place for our loved one to rest or get away from the happy chaos is important.  Perhaps it’s a guest room with some soft music playing or their own bedroom if they are home.  Where ever the festivities take place, a restful place that is quiet and safe needs to be identified.
STEP 6:  Celebrating New Memories.  One of the gifts that dementia gives us is that the person on this journey reminds us to live in the now.  Since some don’t remember the past and honestly have no concern for the future, they become very present in the “NOW” moment.  So take a tip from them. Embrace their being with you for this holiday season.  Take solace in knowing you are in their new memory in that moment and have a chance to bring them joy, love and share yourselves with them.
Be creative, be present and let your “HIPPIE” side out at this festive time of year. We need to be grateful.  They are here with us.  They are able to share in “this” moment.  We need to remember to GIVE and you shall RECEIVE.
Send your comments and questions to me at:     knowyourhippie@gmail.com
2016 new headshotPhyllis DeLaricheliere, MS is a Project Manager for Fairing Way, a 55+ Independent Living Retirement Community at Union Point located in Weymouth, MA. Fairing Way – www.fairingway.org or call at 781-660-5000 for a tour today.
She has made a career working with seniors for over 20 years.  She is a sought after speaker/educator and travels all over New England delivering her HIPPIE message.   hippiepd@gmail.com (802)999-7503.
Reprinted from the December 2017 issue of the South Shore Senior News.