Summer is the time for vacations and fun in the sun, but caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another dementia can be challenging, especially in fiercely hot weather. As a caregiver for my mother with Alzheimer’s, I find that planning summertime activities can be somewhat challenging but so rewarding when I plan them with the goal of making her comfortable.
In addition, caregivers must also be cognizant of adjusting certain activities based on behavior changes and making sure family members are aware. It is important to remember that just because your loved one is dealing with memory loss and cognitive impairment, it doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy meaningful activities.
Here are four caregiver tips that may help you and your loved one during the summer vacation season.
1. Plan Ahead
Planning for a vacation or even a simple drive with someone living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia is a must. Take your time when choosing a location and consider the needs of your loved one. Choose a location that offers the most comfort. If you’re staying in a hotel, call ahead and let the staff know about any special needs.
Try to stick to your normal routine as closely as possible. This isn’t always easy when traveling, but some things you can control. For example, eat three meals a day at the same time and travel during the day so bedtime routines aren’t interrupted.
One summer I took my mom with me on a one-hour drive to visit a friend. I discovered that the passing trucks on the highway made her nervous and I didn’t bring along any of her favorite items that typically soothe her. The lesson for me after, was to always bring along a pre-packed bag of various things she likes including dolls, felt pieces, old jewelry, as well as light snacks to help calm her during car trips and to aid in diverting her attention.
2. Hydrate, Hydrate and Hydrate
We always hear about staying hydrated in the summer months but, as a caregiver, you must remember this rule for you and your loved one. People living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia cannot always communicate that they are thirsty, so caregivers must encourage water intake. Will getting them to drink that bottle of water be a challenge? Of course, but the key is remembering that water also comes in other forms including fruits, like chunks of watermelon and grapes or perhaps slices of cut cucumbers. Bottom line - get the fluids down to keep the hydration up!
3. Serenity in Solitude
Whenever I have family over, they understand that my mom may be engaged and communicating one minute, then disengaged the next. She will often go and sit alone for a while. At first, it was hard to take since she has always loved family gatherings but we all learned that when she wants to be alone, she is still happy and serene in that moment of silence, like meditation. So although a loved one with Alzheimer’s may not be able to participate in all summer activities, that’s ok; let them have their moments of silent solitude.
4. It’s more about the ‘Experience’ and less on the ‘Exercise’
Instead of focusing attention on whether or not your loved one is following a set routine or exercise due to a family outing, pay more attention to the experience they are having. Remember, a loved one with dementia is losing the functionality of their brain, and although they may not be able to participate in some family activities, they are experiencing a new awareness. Be flexible with your expectations and allow your loved one to experience the trip in their own way.
For example, prior to my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, she never liked just sitting out on my back deck and feeling a warm breeze but, now, this simple activity is a new experience which she truly enjoys.
These are just a few suggestions to consider as you start summer planning around your loved one. But what’s more important is the plan of spending quality time with them and creating serene summer memories.