With summer just a few weeks away, you may already be planning some of your favorite seasonal activities.
But if you're the caregiver of a loved one with dementia, you need to be cognizant of a few considerations. Keep them involved in the fun activities you schedule and enjoy a summer of quality time together. Just be sure to plan ahead with their safety in mind.
The backyard cookout
Few things say "summer" more than a backyard barbecue with those you're closest to, so get ready to fire up that grill! If you're a caregiver for someone with early-stage Alzheimer's, you can ask them to help plan and set up with you. Rita Altman, SVP of Memory Care and Program Services at Sunrise, suggests asking your loved one to help prepare food, especially if they had a signature dish they always offered at cookouts in the past. She adds that you can play some of their favorite old songs and sing along together, as singing can help improve alertness.
If your loved one has moderate-stage Alzheimer's, they can still help out, they'll just need more guidance. Leave enough room in your preparation schedule to allow you to spend some extra time working with your loved one so they can feel included and helpful - it could really mean a lot to them.
During the event, check in on your loved one frequently and make sure they are getting enough to eat and drink. People with dementia may forget to eat, so it's up to you to make sure they stay nourished. Otherwise, with the excitement of the day and the possible heat, they could became dizzy, tired, confused and irritable.
A family reunion
It can be a great experience for your loved one to get out and see more of the family. However, this can also be an emotional and stressful time for those involved. If you have relatives who have not seen your loved one recently, it's important that you brace them for what to expect.
Reach out to your family members and update them on your loved one's current state. Tell them which stage of Alzheimer's they're in and suggest resources they can look up to learn more. If it's the early stage, let people know that your loved one will be mostly aware of what's going on around them, but they may forget words and names from time to time, or might need assistance with details or staying on track of a task. If they're in the middle stage of Alzheimer's, warn people that your loved one has started to forget major life events and personal histories. Personality changes, like irritability and suspiciousness, will be more prominent, and they may experience delusions at times.
By preparing your family members for what to expect in advance, it gives them time to adjust to the changes they'll face. This can help they stay more calm and react well when they're with your loved one and see these changes for themselves.
Explaining Alzheimer's to children and teens is also important - they're likely to have many questions for you that you should be prepared to answer. The Alzheimer's Foundation of America Teen chapter offers several tips for teenagers and kids who are concerned about how to talk to a person with dementia, and the advice is good for anyone of any age to follow. These include:
- Helping your loved one remember details they're forgetting. Don't test your loved one to see if they remember your name - if they seem like they're struggle to think of it, gently remind them what it is. This will help prevent them from getting frustrated or feeling guilty.
- Using a positive tone and body language. Be sure to smile and use relaxed body language to signal to your loved one that you're happy and comfortable with talking to them. If they keep repeating questions it's important to stay patient and positive. Otherwise, your loved one might pick up on the cues that you're feeling frustrated and may feel guilty for bothering you. This could cause them to withdraw and feel unwanted.
- Asking only one question at a time. To help minimize confusion, be sure to speak clearly and to not bombard them with too much information at once. Maintain eye contact and ask your questions one and a time, or when telling a story, be sure to go slowly and not veer off track.
Your loved one will appreciate the care and support of the whole family, so help your relatives prepare for how to be present and connected with them.
At the beach
Summer means time for fun in the sun, so pack up the family and head to the beach! When you're near the water, be sure to keep an eye on your loved one who has dementia, the Alzheimer's Association says. They should never swim without guidance and supervision.
Sunscreen is important to help keep your loved one from getting burned. Keep an eye on their skin throughout the day and reapply as necessary, or take them for a break in the shade. They may not notice if they're starting to burn.
Hydration will also be key. Thwart heat stroke and dehydration by ensuring your loved one drinks plenty of water throughout the day and takes breaks from activity to cool down from time to time.
Depending on which stage of Alzheimer's your loved one is at, be prepared for them to become confused or disoriented by the new location. If this happens, just remind them that they are safe and you are there for them. Assure them they're where they're supposed to be and that you took them out for a day of fun. This will help your loved one stay calm and focus on the positive activities of the day.
Whichever events you most look forward to in the summer, take your loved one along for the adventure. People with early- to middle-stage dementia may not always be able to remember what they're doing or what they've done, but they will remember how being included makes them feel. With a little bit of planning you can create some treasured moments for the whole family while keeping your loved one safe and comfortable.