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Sharing Holidays with Aging Loved Ones

This holiday season, there is much to be grateful for, particularly for those with elderly loved ones. Every family has its own challenges, however, and the elder law attorneys at Pintas & Mullins want to highlight a few useful tips for those sharing the holidays with aging relatives and perhaps difficult family members.

This issue can be especially stressful if elderly relatives are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or any other cognitive condition. Trying to communicate and celebrate with someone living with dementia can be difficult and often frustrating, as the disease erodes communication skills, sometimes making them irritable or unpleasant. It helps to have a pre-conceived strategy when dealing with these types of events.

Tips for Effective Communication

The Mayo Clinic is one of the most trusted and esteemed medical centers in the country and is a great resource for Alzheimer’s advice. According to its website, those with dementia often have difficulty deciphering words due to the destruction of brain pathways, resulting in frequent misunderstandings. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s may also struggle to organize thoughts, curse or use offensive language, lose their train of thought, repeat words or phrases over and over, or need more time to process what is being said.

Although this may be challenging to deal with, your loved one does want to communicate with you. Families can help this process by following a few tips:

• Don’t interrupt, criticize, hurry, or correct them
• Avoid distractions, such as televisions or other sounds • Show respect, avoiding “baby talk” or other demeaning phrases, and talking as if they weren’t there
• Stay calm, even when frustrated, and keep your tone of voice gentle • Keep your sentences and words simple – yes/no questions may work best, and break down requests into easy steps • Speak as clearly and straightforwardly as possible • Don’t argue – their reason and judgment will decline over time • Stay present, maintaining eye contact
• Use visual cues, such as gestures to promote better understanding
Holiday-Specific Tips for Managing Family Time

Here are four useful tips on how to better handle family gatherings with elderly relatives:

• Respond instead of react – do not react emotionally without thinking. Pause and decide whether you should simply change the subject
• Stay in the moment – bringing up the past or worrying about the future will take away from your time with your family. If this is difficult, count your breath in counts of five, in and out, for ten breaths. Savor the food or drink in front of you, enjoying the details of the present.
• Adopt a grateful attitude – express appreciation that you have somewhere to be and people to be with at all for the holidays. Doll out compliments like they’re apple pie.
• Avoid dysfunctional relationships – some relatives affect us more than others, but engaging in destructive behavior is exactly that: destructive. If they try to engage you, you can simply not respond. By ignoring the offensive remark, the person does not have anyone to bicker with, and the issue dissipates.

Elder law attorneys at Pintas & Mullins wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season. If your loved one is living in a nursing home, and you see any signs or abuse or neglect while you’re with them this year, contact our firm immediately. Issues of abuse or neglect can best and most efficiently be solved through legal action, and we offer consultations free of charge to potential clients nationwide.