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When Old is New Again

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Mom loved Christmas.  She always looked forward to the traditions and received lots of joy from giving (and getting) Christmas presents.  She loved decorating her home and the Christmas tree.  Our family has wonderful memories about that time of year.  With Mom’s Alzheimer’s disease, however, there were new challenges and we had to learn to go with the flow.

The pace of life increases for everyone in December, and it can be particularly difficult for people with Alzheimer’s. One caregiving tip you always hear about is that consistent day-to-day routine becomes essential.  A schedule helps to prevent confusion and frustration. When you understand that, it becomes easy to understand why the entire month of December can have its issues.

There are parties with lots of noise and loud music.  There are gatherings with friends and relatives. Occasionally during those events I suspected that Mom was uncomfortable and had a feeling she should know the names of the people who were there. She knew she should know who they were. Even things we take for granted like Christmas decorations which change the look of our homes, neighborhoods and shopping malls can cause confusion and become a disturbing distraction.  Our family noticed many times that Mom was slightly off her game at Christmastime, but that January would bring relief.

Every year I wanted to find the perfect Christmas gift for Mom. She had everything she needed, although a new warm throw or sweater was always nice.  One year, I felt like I really nailed it. I bought a plastic three ring binder with thirteen pages and I inserted photos of her family with names, dates and a small description printed on each page.  On the cover, I inserted a picture of Mom with the words, “Helen Simpson is Loved by Many People.”

The first page had a picture of my husband Bob and me, and below it was printed, “Bob and Virginia got married in 1985.  That was a long time ago!”  Her reaction was priceless.

It felt odd and wrong to have to explain each photo of a family member, but she saw nothing strange about it.  She loved that binder each time she looked through it. Our old pictures were completely new again, and brought her joy for the next three years.

As simple as it was, that Christmas present was definitely the gift that kept on giving.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a good article concerning the issues that come up at holiday time:

This blog was written by a woman who had to quit her job as a college professor because of her diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).  She describes how she handles the holidays with her progressing dementia:

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I had a nine year journey with my Mom who suffered with Alzheimer’s disease. I wish to share what I learned about caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s and also provide a website with information and helpful resources.

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