As if sundowning weren’t a challenge for those with dementia and their caregivers we add fireworks to the mix on July 4th each year. A person who once loved fireworks may respond differently now. For someone with dementia, the loud pops and explosions can trigger memories of wartime experiences causing a return or worsening of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Even someone who never went to war can be deeply affected by these annual displays. The flashing lights and changing colors in the sky can trigger fear leading to aggressive behavior that can be dangerous for the caregiver and their family member. Between the community events and backyard enthusiasts, the noise and confusion can often go on for hours. While some are calling for the ban of fireworks all together others are reluctant to do away with the long held tradition that they grew up with. It’s not an issue that will likely be resolved soon. However there is some good news. Many communities are becoming more aware of the impact fireworks have on those with dementia and are taking steps to minimize the impact by using quiet fireworks that focus on colors and effects rather than sound. It may not be a complete fix but it’s a step in the right direction for many.
If that is not the case in your area, here are a few suggestions that may help make things less stressful for you and your family.
Talk to the person in your care about the holiday and what it means to him or her. Listen to their stories of picnics past and how they showed their pride in their country.
Encourage them to talk about fireworks. Were they exciting and fun or too loud and scary?
If you live near a place where you see and hear fireworks from your home, you should prepare them for what will happen. They may not remember later but you never know what will help on day like this and it’s worth a try.
Early in the day may be a good time to show them a video of fireworks. There are a number links of the displays available for viewing on social media. Turn the sound off before showing it to the person in your care. Explain that they may see these lights in the sky later that night and you will sit with them until it’s over.
If even the silent display is upsetting, close the blinds and drapes in their room before sunset to block out the flashing lights. Play music he or she likes using earbuds or head phones if possible to mask the noise. If these devices are not available or practical in your situation, play the music anyway and sing or dance along with it to distract them, they may even join you.
Behavior is communication and their actions always include clues as to where they are and how they feel. It is when we enter their world rather than insisting they live in our reality that true understanding comes to us, the caregivers.
The Imperfect Caregiver is honored to be among those who will be presenting at the Third Annual Caregiving Conference in Chicago, November 9th and 10th. For a sneak preview of the presenters Caregiving.com is having a virtual summit May 14 – May 24.
Virtual Caregiving Summit
Our virtual summit, featuring conversations with our National Caregiving Conference presenters, begins May 14 and ends May 24.
Check back to watch our video chats about how we found our best selves during caregiving. This year’s conference theme, Our Best Selves, encourages us to look at how we do our best during an experience that feels like the worst.
Have you attended a caregiver conference? If so, what topics drew you to the event? What would you like to see addressed at future events? If you have not attended a caregiver conference would you attend if there was respite care provided at the event?
When it comes to care giving, sometimes love doesn’t enter the picture at all. People with dementia behave in ways that try us to our very limits. Waking each morning wondering what new hell this day will bring causes anxiety, resentment, grief, and anger.
You may have loved your parent, your spouse, your sibling, or your grandparent for many years, but when dementia takes over and the person you knew is gone, replaced by a stranger trying to escape from you, refusing to bathe, and accusing you of all kinds of terrible things, love can be forgotten. Sometimes it’s gone for only a moment or a day or two. Sometimes it dies leaving duty in its place and we grieve while they still live. Sometimes we pray for the end to come and are overwhelmed with guilt for even thinking such a thing.
However, it’s not death we wish for, we don’t really want that. We wish for the pain to end. There’s and ours.
It is because we care that we started this journey. It is because we care we carry on when we think it’s no longer possible, even when we wake up each morning wondering what new hell this day will bring. For deep inside they remain who they once were and so do we. We rise and enter their world ready to keep them safe another day. And that’s what love’s got to do with it.
“Christmas will be just another day in our house. Mom doesn’t know what day it is anyway.”
And that’s true. She doesn’t know it is Christmas present but she may remember Christmas past and that may be the way to connect with her and bring a little happiness to your day.
Most of us save ornaments from year to year and some of them become family favorites that become little treasures of happy times. Forget about putting up a tree and having to deal with all that entails. If you can do it without too much trouble, bring out one or two of the ornaments that adorned the trees in your home when you were growing up.
I remember making red and green chains out of construction paper as a child. Mom saved them until the glue dried out and they fell apart. Seeing even a picture of one makes me smile. I made some with my kids when they were little. Perhaps your family made them too. Even if they are long gone a picture of one may do the same in your home.
When my kids were little we had a large Styrofoam Santa head smiling at us from over the mantle each year. Now all my children have one to hang in their home. I won’t need a tree or lots of fuss to evoke Christmas when I am old. Seeing that Santa head will always connect us and bring back memories.
Hearing traditional Christmas carols may inspire an unexpected sing-along. And if your family is anything like ours you may want to include some of the less traditional ones like, Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, or Santa Baby to mix things up.
If friends or family members ask what you want for Christmas tell them to forget about certificates for spa days you will never use. Tell them to stop by and bring a vintage Christmas card for your loved one and spend some time with them to give you a break. That’s what you really need and want any time of the year. The gift of time is priceless.
Do you have a favorite ornament or Christmas song that evokes Christmas memories that connect you and you loved with Christmas past? If you do, feel free to share them here.