Helping caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s embrace the summer
Add in some wariness of sundowning, travel, swimming, and shooting fireworks
Winter is lovely; without winter, there’d be no Christmas. But by February’s end, chilly folks start dreaming of long summer days, exchanging shivering for sweat, and trading snow shovels for mowers to cut the greener grass on the other side of winter. Then, suddenly, we awake in June.
Caregivers might be the exception to the rule. They, and the loved ones for whom they provide care, might not eagerly anticipate summer. Aside from the weather, not much changes in their season of life. The days, weeks, and months melt into each other; the caregiving tasks stay the same while loved ones lose ground.
Keep on keeping on
If you were recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or mild cognitive impairment, you might find it challenging to look forward to the events surrounding summer as much as you once did. Backyard barbecues and vacations to faraway places or to see the kids in a neighboring city don’t hold the appeal they did in past summers. It’s understandable. You’re dealing with a lot. Trying to get your mind around the diagnosis and how to move forward is about all you can handle, but as long as there’s breath, do all you can to live in hope.
I was rearing my middle child when my mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, her diagnosis was difficult to accept, for her and our family. We addressed Mom’s needs and helped her navigate the disease, but we also tried to assist her in living her life as close to what she’d had as possible.
It was easier in the early stages of the disease. Before her diagnosis, she and my father traveled to Florida each year to visit with their kids and grandkids. They continued to make the trek for many years, and we continued enjoying their company.
Summer appeals to most of us, perhaps because it was cultivated in us as schoolchildren. We looked forward to summer vacation almost as much as Christmas. You don’t have to stop celebrating summer, but adjusting your lifestyle could be necessary.
If you have dementia or care for someone who does, alter your summer lifestyle. Maybe take short day trips rather than trips abroad. Plan to spend the night in a hotel or with friends or family. Arrive at your destination before sundown. People with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can experience sundowning and become more confused at dusk.
If you’re in the early stages of the disease, make smaller plans and seek help from a trusted friend or loved one to help activate them. For instance, celebrate the Fourth of July if you like, but don’t set off fireworks at home. If that’s a tradition, turn it over to a family member or friend. Speak to them about continuing the tradition in June, then turn it loose and enjoy.
Summer is a time for fun in the sun, sand, or neighborhood pool, but those activities can be challenging for caregivers. A recently diagnosed person with mild cognitive impairment may find it challenging, too. Enlist a friend, keep it simple, and again, plan small. Only carry the essentials, like water, a beach chair, and a towel. Don’t forget the sunscreen, and never swim alone or on an unguarded beach or pool.
Of course, caregivers are even more alert in a water setting. Never leave a person with cognitive issues unattended in the water. Even if they can swim, a wearable swim float is helpful. Strap one on to keep them buoyant if they become confused in the pool or ocean. Caregivers can also wear one to stay afloat. Staying afloat without effort allows you to stay alert and keep your arms free.
Don’t view lifestyle adjustments as restrictions. If anything, asking for help and keeping activities and plans simple will assist you in remaining as independent as possible.
Once, I admitted to a friend that I struggled with caregiving and parenting simultaneously. My focus was less divided when the older children were very young, and my mother was well, but my younger kids shared me with their more needy grandmother. It felt different, and I didn’t like it. Were my kids missing out?
My friend figuratively slapped me into a better frame of mind. “Of course, it’s different. Your circumstance is different, but that’s OK.”
It wasn’t always easy, but I learned to adjust my expectations, to make simpler plans that embraced our season. In this season of your life, I pray you can embrace this summer, pursuing it with simplicity and hope.
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.