Holidays can be filled with a wide range of emotions ranging from pure joy to utter sadness when you are visiting someone with a cognitive illness such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Regardless of the emotion, however, accept it and try not to judge your feelings or the feelings of others during this time. Holidays may feel and look different because traditions are not able to be followed exactly as before, but that does not mean you cannot have a meaningful experience.
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Blog posts come in all shapes and sizes … sometimes they are personal reflections or ruminations on various topics … at other times, they tell a story, often to demonstrate a key point … at other times, they express heartfelt appreciation for how someone has been helped … as in this recent example:
To the staff of Diakon Adult Day Services at Ravenwood:
I wanted to send you a thank you on behalf of my family for the wonderful care you provide for my father, Robert “Bob” Wilson. I wonder if you know just how much the work you do is valued and how important it is to so many? Daily you have a positive impact on so many lives.
Someone recently asked me about the importance of various roles within a senior living community.
My immediate response arose from my knowledge of 1 Corinthians: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts … all its many parts form one body … there should be no division in the body, but … its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
In other words, every role is equally important, every staff member critical to the quality service we provide.
The question dovetailed so nicely with our new customer service program at Diakon—Many Hands. One Heart. Service Excellence.—I felt compelled to write about it. One part of that program guides staff members toward the understanding that, no matter what our role is, we are all equally important to our mission. We cannot accomplish our goals any other way!
I am not a fan of political correctness. We have come far astray of the general knowledge that “sticks and stones….” Moreover, the limitations prompted by overzealous word-watchers can sometimes affect the ability to communicate freely and clearly.
However, I also recognize that while words may not physically injure us, they can hurt and often can rob people of dignity.
For example, I often ask students in a class I teach what is wrong with the phrase “the Alzheimer’s sufferer” or “the wheelchair-bound man.”
Know the answer?
Both phrases define people by a characteristic or condition. It’s far better in these cases to write or say “the man with Alzheimer’s disease” or “the woman who uses a wheelchair.”
NOTE: Since 2006, Jeanne Doney and her therapy dog, Bentley, have volunteered at Diakon Senior Living – Hagerstown/The Ravenwood Campus. Together, the duo offers residents a special relationship that only two hearts, two hands and four paws can give.
Jeanne Doney shares her experience:
You might say that my dog, Bentley, is giving back to the community—especially since the community saved him. You see, Bentley is a rescue dog. He was once neglected, but now he not only receives an overabundance of love at home, but he is the center of attention on the Ravenwood campus of Diakon Senior Living – Hagerstown most Friday mornings.
Although Fridays are my days off—I work as a State of Maryland office supervisor in behavioral health—I tell Bentley that we have to go to “work.”
It is hard for me to remember a time that I didn’t love art.
In fact, I have been pencil sketching since I was a kid. Ironically enough, I used to draw pictures of airplanes. Little did I know that after college graduation, I would become a pilot—a profession that would take my sketching skills to new heights.
I flew for Pan American Airways. Traveling internationally for a living, I never left home without my sketchpad. It was my companion during layovers. Together, we ventured to some of the most stunning cities around the world. Sketching primarily with charcoal pencils, I captured the beauty of churches in Frankfort, the Opera House in Vienna, Ireland landscapes and street scenes in Warsaw, Africa and Tokyo.
The holidays, with all their hustle and bustle, can add additional stress and strain for caregivers, particularly people caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or a similar memory-related illness.
I hope the following tips and ideas will help keep your holidays merry and bright.
Simplify the season
Make this the season to simplify. Instead of the usual six-course family dinner, maybe you can do a potluck or a simple brunch. One caregiver—who always had her holidays cards in the mail on Thanksgiving Day—decided instead to send an email to her family and friends wishing them a happy holiday.
She explained she would not be sending out cards because her focus this holiday was on caring for her parents—and herself. Good for her!
Halloween is behind us, yes, but it’s still with us, too, and in a bad way: The treats of trick-or-treating can easily be the start of holiday seasons full of unhealthy eating.
That’s because those overflowing trick-or-treat bags are soon followed by turkey and stuffing and pies and Christmas cookies—well, you get the picture.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, significant weight gains occur right after major holidays and can take up to five months or more to reverse.
At many of Diakon’s senior living communities, we have wellness coordinators and committees to encourage both residents and staff members to make healthy choices.
When I arrived at Luther Crest in 2011, at the age of 76, I had no idea I’d end up writing a book. But it was, after all, a period of starting over.
I had lived in New York State all of my life before my move and had experienced numerous new beginnings: leaving my parents’ home to marry; moving from Brooklyn to Long Island as a young mother; getting divorced; meeting my life partner and moving to his home; retiring from my job as a social worker in the domestic violence field; seeing my partner through his final illness and then moving into a kind of transitional housing situation until Dan the Moving Man carried me off to my new, and probably final, destination, Luther Crest.
I was happy and excited about starting over again.
I loved my small apartment, crammed too full of precious items from my past lives, and I was excited by the novelty of no longer having to eat solitary dinners in front of the TV.
I had heard the name Virginia “Ginny” Ebersole numerous times after the 2000 creation of Diakon that brought The Lutheran Home at Topton into my work-life, typically as the guardian of The Lutheran Home’s history as an orphanage.
Because I had a similar role in safeguarding the records of the children’s home operated by Tressler Lutheran Services—my former organization before the Diakon merger—I felt a sort of kinship with Ginny, even though the similarities ended there.
Ginny, after all, had actually grown up in the children’s home and then returned in retirement to the place of her childhood, living in one of independent-living cottages at The Lutheran Home, now a senior living community.
Although I had the privilege to work with Ginny the past two years, I wish I had learned to know her personally sooner because her commitment to protecting and preserving the history of the home was both outstanding and amazing. When someone wanted to know the history of a child who had been served by the home, everyone immediately turned to Ginny for that information.
But no longer. Virginia B. (Baer) Ebersole passed away last Sunday, July 24, at the age of 88.
Ginny lovingly told stories of her time at the home, to which she moved in 1933 when her mother passed away; her father’s work schedule made it difficult for him to take care of his family.