Welcome the Ghost of Christmas Past

Christmas is often a time of sorrow for families of those with any of the many forms of dementia. Often family and friends have stopped calling or visiting. Family relationships break down as one person provides daily care.

You may decide it’s just not worth it and spend the day trying to block out memories of happier times. I get it. But consider what may happen if you embrace the past for a few moments. You may be surprised by what your loved one remembers.

Welcome the Ghost of Christmas Past. Forget about putting up a tree if you don’t feel up to it. Don’t bother with a special meal unless someone delivers it to your door hot and ready to serve. Instead open the old albums and put out the oldest, most treasured ornaments. Play all the old Christmas carols. Cry for what is lost. Cry until the tears no longer come. Then, if you can, welcome the ghost of Christmas Past. Allow him to illuminate the memories you most treasure and share them with those in your care.

The image below is from Disney’s, A Christmas Carol, where the Ghost of Christmas Past appears as a candle illuminating events that formed the person Scrooge became.

ghost_of_christmas_past

Push aside the present and feel the love you shared on all the happy times you shared if not for the entire day, at least for a moment. The love and laughter you shared may be the most precious gift you receive this season.

One of my favorite treasured Christmas decorations from childhood is also a candle.

single-choir-boy-candle

This little guy, once part of a set of five, appeared in our home a few days before Christmas when I was eight years old. Upon our mothers passing in 2002 my sister, three brothers, and I each took one. Mine is now lopsided. His face is grimy from years of being packed away in newspaper, and his robe has a chip in it from being dropped a time or two. Despite the abuse he has endured over the years, he is far more precious than the thirty-five cents stamped on the sticker that still clings precariously to his underside tells us Mother paid for him.

If you have a favorite memory of Christmas past shared with the one in your care, feel free to post it in the comment section. I’d love to hear from you.

Thanksgiving with Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)

Thanksgiving is the holiday most focused on gathering around the table with family and friends to share a sumptuous feast. My father-in-law, Rodger, was never one to miss a meal. He ate breakfast, lunch, and supper at precisely the same time every day. He grew up on a farm in Italy. Like most Italians he had a very healthy appetite.

When advancing Parkinson’s disease and dementia triggered severe swallowing problems I knew I had to be creative. Everything he ate had to be pureed and any liquids had to be thickened to the consistency of honey. I bought a food processor and experimented with ways prepare tasty versions of the things he loved to eat. I showed him that the mushy stuff he insisted wasn’t food was the same thing he used to eat. I had him watch me mash the potatoes, prepare the vegetables, and put them in the food processor.

“This is real food,” he finally admitted. “But it’s not as good. I need the real, real food.”

I wanted to serve him roast chicken, a baked potato and fresh green beans with a slice of apple pie with ice cream for dessert. He should have been able to eat anything he wanted. But the danger was too great.

I made a lot of thick soups and stews full of vegetables and beans. Flavor and nutrition were my main focus and when the peas turned the pureed chicken stew green I told him it was one of my Irish specialties. He ate it all.

When Thanksgiving came and the house filled with wonderful of aroma of roasting turkey and baking pies I made sure he was able to enjoy as many of his favorite dishes as possible.

Here is my recipe for A Dysphagia Thanksgiving:

Turkey – I tried pureeing both dark and white meat turkey and found it too grainy so I used a well-known brand of junior baby food and pureed it further to remove all lumps.

1 cup homemade stuffing – Place in food processor with 2 tablespoons of homemade gravy. Puree until smooth, making sure all lumps are removed. (Add gravy one teaspoon at time as needed.)

½ cup mashed potatoes – mash or puree to remove all lumps. Add gravy to the potatoes for flavor.

½ cup creamed spinach – puree until very smooth

For desert – remove crust from one slice of pumpkin pie, top with whipped cream.

At the end of the meal he said, “This is just like my wife used to make.” I knew it wasn’t true but as long as he enjoyed it there was reason to be truly thankful.

An estimated 15 million people in the United States have the current diagnosis of     Dysphagia. Patients with Dysphagia are at high risk for aspiration pneumonia which weakens them and can lead to death.  Nearly 60,000 people die each year from complications associated with swallowing disorders.  For more information on Dysphagia go to: http://dysphagia514.tripod.com/vitalstimtherapy/id1.html

National Family Caregivers Month – Tell Them You Need Help

Spread the word. Let everyone you know how many of us there are and how much we need their help. Don’t be shy. When someone says, “Let me know if you need anything.” Give them something to do.

Here are some suggestions:

Visit once or twice a month for thirty minutes so I can shower and rest for a few minutes.

Call when you are going to the grocery store and ask if we need anything.

Cut the grass or rake the leaves in my yard.

Once a month provide a meal so I don’t nave to cook.

Take my car to be inspected or pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy.

Be my friend when I need to vent and please don’t judge me when I am at my most vulnerable. This is harder than I ever imagined and I am doing the best I can.

What would you add  to the list above? What will you say when well meaning people say, “Let me know if you need anything?”

Please Don’t Do This

I read a recent post on another social media site from a woman who said her mother was repeatedly asking why her parents never came to see her. The woman in care is elderly and her parents have been gone for many years. The advice she received from a paid caregiver made me cringe and shout out NO!!!!!!! despite the fact that I was alone in my home and no one would hear me.

I am writing today to let my voice be heard loud and clear. Don’t Do It! 

So, here’s what the caregiver told her to do.

“Take your mother to cemetery to see their graves.”

Please DO NOT DO IT.  Imagine you have dementia and in your mind you are somewhere back in time, longing to see your parents, and someone puts you in a car and takes you to a cemetery to show you their headstones. Imagine the shock and pain you would feel. The grief would be as overwhelming as it was the day they passed and even if she accepts it in the moment she will forget and start asking again.

I suggest telling her something like this, “They are away right now and will visit when they can.”

What do you think of the caregivers advice and what would you say in that situation?

Four of the Saddest Words Ever Spoken

She doesn’t remember me.

I hope my children never have a reason to say them. But it could happen. If it does I hope they understand that even in my confused mind they are still a part of me.

By the time I reach that point I will have lost much already.

My short term memory.

My rich vocabulary.

My love of long, hot showers.

My ability to cook.

My driver’s license or even how to find my way home if I did still have that privilege.

 

I pray I’ll still have the ability to read and understand the words my favorite authors have so painstakingly crafted. A world without books would be barren indeed for someone who loves to read as much as I do.

Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia will have taken me somewhere back in time.

Perhaps I am reliving my days as a busy young mother and you, my darling daughter or son, are still in elementary school. You have not yet grown into the wonderful adult you will become.  I see you pink cheeked and out of breath after running up the steps, opening the screen door, and calling out, “Mom, I’m home. Guess what I got on my spelling test today!”

It may not seem like it in the moment but the memory of you is deeply implanted in my heart. The heart that beat so close to yours during the time I carried you. The heart that cried with you when you were hurt and rejoiced with you when you achieved a goal.

If the day comes when I look at you and ask, “Who are you?” I hope you will smile, give me your name, and tell me about your mother.

I love you. I pray you never forget that.

Dr. Phil: Please help support caregivers via the Dr. Phil Foundation. Caregivers are in desperate need of respite and you can help make it happen.

Caregiver Support Coming to Purcellville, VA

I’ve been away from the blog far longer than I planned. However, being a caregiver and all that entails is never far from my heart and mind.  One of the most important and meaningful things I’ve been doing while away from the keyboard is training to be a Caregiver Support Group Facilitator through Alz.org.

Here are the details of where and when this group will meet.

Caregiver Support Group, Purcellville, VA, 20132

When: Thu, April 28, 3pm – 4pm
Where: The Carver Center, 200 Willie Palmer Drive, Purcellville, VA, 20132 (map)
Description: Alzheimer’s Association Support Groups Alzheimer’s Association support groups provide a place for people with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers, family members, and/or friends to share valuable information, caregiving tips and concerns throughout the Alzheimer’s journey. Groups are facilitated by trained leaders and are ongoing, free and open to the community. Please call our 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) or contact the facilitator directly for more information and to confirm date and time. The Carver Center | 200 Willie Palmer Drive, Purcellville, VA, 20132 | Bobbi Carducci, bcarducci@comcast.net

For information on where to fond a support group near you go to: http://www.alz.org/nca/in_my_community_support.asp

If you are a support group facilitator I’d like to hear from you. Perhaps you’d be willing to share resources or tips on what your group finds useful. If you attend a support group I’d love to hear about how your group has helped you.

A Call for Help For Caregivers

Below is a link to an article in the November/December Issue of Virginia Woman Magazine (Loudoun) titled A Caregiver Near You Needs Help.

Feel free to share the link as you see fit. Who knows, it may make a difference for someone.

http://issuu.com/virginiawomanmagazine/docs/loudounnovdec2015highresnobleeds/17?e=17049404/31065692

5 Halloween Tips for Caregivers

While turning off the outside lights may keep the doorbell from ringing; the chatter of children passing by on the sidewalks and the sound of increased traffic on the street coming at sundown can create a great deal of stress in someone with dementia.

Here are a few suggestions to help ease your loved one into the holiday:

Color a Halloween picture each day leading up to Halloween. http://www.coloring.ws/halloween.html – click on the link for downloadable coloring pages.

Share old photos of his children in costume and ask him to tell you stories about their trick or treat adventures.

Together make simple Halloween mask for the children or grandchildren and one for each of you.

paperplate mask 2

Put together some simple and fun Halloween treats:witch hat cookies

The Witch Hat Cookies

What you will need:

  • Keebler Elf Striped Cookies
  • Hershey’s Kisses
  • Vanilla Frosting
  • Orange Food Coloring

Recipe:

  1. Mix Vanilla Frosting with orange food coloring, put the frosting in a zip lock bag, and cut off the corner to make a piping bag.
  2. Flip over the Keebler Elf Cookie and apply a nickel sized portion of frosting.
  3. Press the Hershey’s Kiss down onto the frosting and cookie.
  4. Let harden, and enjoy!

People with dementia enjoy music from their past. Listen to some playful Halloween music and share memories of sock hops and parties they attended.

Purple People Eater

Monster Mash

Witch Doctor (Ooh Eeh Ooh Ah AAh Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang)

Addams Family Theme Song

If none of this is possible for you, that’s okay. Give yourself a treat and refuse to feel guilty. You are faced with plenty to deal with every day.   Blessed Be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caregivers Are Strong Enough

strength Caregivers are among the strongest people you will ever know.   Caregivers Are Heroes. Help me raise awareness of how many caregivers there are and how fast their numbers are growing. Request your FREE Caregivers Are Heroes Wristband and wear it with pride.  All you have to do is send your name and complete mailing address to bcarducci@comcast.net. (Available in the U.S. only) No shipping costs or hidden fees apply.

Caregiver Bracelet

Remembering Rodger

Rodger Carducci

 July 26, 1926 – July 26, 2009

001

A year ago today I celebrated with family friends the release of Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver.  The day was one of joy mixed with sadness as were so many of the days I spent writing it. We chose to release the book on Rodger’s birthday to honor him and his life.  I knew when I decided to share our story I would experience again all the emotions of living it. I told Mike to be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster. He knew all too well what that meant. He lived it too and would have his own moments of joy and regret. However, we agreed it was important to speak the truth about what it’s really like to be a caregiver.

I was determined to be brutally honest. I included the good days, the days of precious moment of clarity and remembrance he chose to share with us. However, I  also share the many moments of anger and doubt. I cry and pray and vent the frustration that comes with doing the best you can in an impossible situation for someone who sometimes loves you but far more often resents you for trying to save them from themselves.

Caregivers often asked, “Why doesn’t someone write a book that shows what it’s really like?”  Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver does that. Caregivers,  you know what it’s like. You live it every day. It is now my wish is to get into the hands of your friends and family members in the hope that, in reading our story, they will better understand your situation and offer to help in any way they can.

Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver is for caregivers, those who may become caregivers, those who have been caregivers and those who may one day need care. I hope our story helps everyone understand that you don’t have to get it right every time in order to succeed and sometimes being a little bit crazy is exactly what is needed. Available via Amazon and Barnes&Noble. To purchase a signed copy you are invited to contact Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, VA (540-687-7016) or via email: secondchapterbks@gmail.com

 

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