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Columnist Bob Elmer | ( Jill Connor / The Westerly Sun )

Join the journey / Bob Elmer: Give serious thought to holiday activities


My Aunt Gail was an amazing person in so many ways.

She served with the Red Cross in Europe during World War II, and was an accomplished businesswoman, world traveler and superb amateur golfer who won the national championship of Cuba in 1951.

Christmastime was always special at our house because it meant we’d get to see Aunt Gail. She’d always arrive from Peru or some other such mysterious place, and she always brought us wonderful gifts from those far off lands.

As time moved on, I was honored when she would come to our house for Christmas. Her traveling days were over, but I loved having her with us to make the Christmas holiday magical for my daughters, like she did for my brothers, sister and me.

It’s the childhood memories that make this time of year so special for most of us, but we all know there’s no cure for aging, and, sadly, things do change and not always for the better.

When she was in her late 80s, Aunt Gail fell in her house and her doctor recommended that it was time for her to transition into “skilled” care.

Along with some cardiac issues, Aunt Gail was also dealing with dementia.

This time of year, many of you who are dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other similar dementia are faced with the question of what you’re going to do with them for the holiday. It’s a perfectly reasonable concern, and I suggest that you give it some serious thought. Do we bring her over for Christmas Eve? Does she spend the night? Can we expect her to enjoy sitting at the holiday table Christmas Day with eight adults, four teenagers and three youngsters under the age of 6 who are bouncing off the walls with excitement? No one knows your loved one better than you, and this is where your insights and understanding are going to go a long way.

Let me give you an Aunt Gail example.

It was her 87th birthday, and my wife and I drove to the nursing home facility to take her out to dinner. We hadn’t driven more than two blocks from the nursing home and she said, “I want to go back.” I realized immediately what was happening. She wanted nothing to do with going to a strange place where she didn’t know anyone, where she didn’t know where the ladies room was, where she’d have to make choices from a menu, and where she’d be surrounded by a great deal of noise and conversation that she couldn’t process. In short, she didn’t feel safe. I immediately turned around, returned to the facility and my wife and I enjoyed a salami sandwich with Aunt Gail for dinner that night. We did bring a birthday cake and Aunt Gail was delighted. The nursing home staff knew she loved salami, and she loved having us there to meet and talk with her friends — those on the staff as well as the other patrons.

So for your sake and the sake of your loved one, ask yourself what their threshold is. Is dad going to be good company on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with a houseful of young and old? Is there a chance that, within an hour of being in your home with the kids and the music and the excitement, that mom is going to want to leave? The choice is yours, but for the sake of everyone, especially your loved one, don’t try to make something happen that shouldn’t happen.

This is one more superb example of the importance of joining their journey.

Merry Christmas everyone. If you have any questions, please email me and I’ll answer them directly or in a future column. And remember, join the journey.

Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser, lecturer and Alzheimer’s care specialist. Email him with questions at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Also, visit his website at careforcaregivers.org. “Join the Journey” refers to the caregiver having to join their loved one’s journey through Alzheimer’s dementia.



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