How to love a spouse with Alzheimer’s

Updated Oct. 23, 2018: This article has been updated in the wake of Retired Supereme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s announcement today that she has “beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease.” She is the latest of about 5.7 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s daily. Buckner Retirement Services offers memory care in all of its senior living communities throughout Texas.

Dorothy Horne is a Longview, Texas, author and contributing columnist and blogger for the Longview News-Journal. Her husband, Byron, lives with Alzheimer’s disease and is a resident at Buckner Westminster Place’s The Harbor.

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Byron has now been in memory care at Buckner Westminster Place for eight months. I’m thankful for the gift of community God has given Byron at Buckner, and I’m grateful he’s in such a caring and loving environment. I have come to know the staff well, and they are amazing. I love watching them interact with and care for the residents with such patience and love. Theirs is not a job, but a ministry of serving.

There is such tenderness and beauty in Byron’s community. If you want to see what unconditional love looks like—a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things—then visit Buckner memory care.

You’ll find husbands, wives and family members who come on a regular basis to be with their loved ones. They may or may not be able to converse much, depending on the stage of the disease. That doesn’t matter, though, because their communication and love is expressed through simply being present, not necessarily through words. Being present with someone is saying, “You matter to me and I love you unconditionally.” Just sitting together, holding hands—being instead of doing.

When I’m present with Byron, he’s content and so am I. At this point in our journey, much has been stripped away. We’re down to the marrow. What’s left, though, is life’s essence: unconditional love. And when the inner light of love shines from Byron’s eyes when he looks at me, it’s pure gold.

Whether our loved ones with Alzheimer’s (or other long-term diseases) are in a memory care community or at home, there are many ways we can continue loving them well.  What better way to do this than by being present and creating moments of joy?

It’s not in our power to give our loved ones a great day, but it is in our power to give them happy, joy-filled moments. They won’t remember these, but the contentment and good feelings you’ve helped them experience will linger.

So, when it comes to loving a spouse through Alzheimer’s or dementia, think “moments” and simplicity. Think about what brings delight or comfort. The simplest activities can bring the most satisfaction. I’ve learned to look for what brings a smile and sparkle to Byron’s eyes, and that’s what we do.

It varies from day to day, depending on his energy level or state of confusion. It may be listening to music, playing his guitar, going for walks over by the Buckner lake, looking for rainbows in the fountains, dancing (we’ve always loved to dance) or playing catch. Think about what the two of you have always loved to do, then modify and adjust the activity and keep doing it!

For practical ways to love your spouse despite their disease, try these ideas:

  • Hug and hold hands often.
  • Tell them how special they are, and why. Remind them of the great things they were known for.
  • Remind them how they’ve made a difference to you, your family and friends.
  • Think about the ways your loved one used to show you love, then do those things for them.
  • Touch, feel and talk about their treasured possessions.
  • Give them a back rub.
  • Comb their hair.
  • Rub scented lotion on their hands.
  • Read and sing to them.
  • Read Scripture and pray with them. Remind them how much God loves them and how he is taking care of them.
  • Look at photo albums together. Talk to them about your shared experiences. Tell them “their story” often. It hands them back their life and memories, even if just momentarily.
  • Go out for ice cream.
  • Talk about all the things you are thankful for. Make a list and read it together often.

Thanks be to God for the gift of His miraculous grace that turns water into wine in the magnified, joy-infused moments He gives us each day!

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ” –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How to love your parents as they age

Aging parents. It’s a life stage we always know will come, but never really know what it will look like or how to prepare.

The Bible calls us to honor our parents, but the command isn’t just for children under 18. God intends us to honor, love and serve our parents throughout our lives and theirs. Though the demands of life change as our parents age, the command to love them does not.

As a senior living provider, Buckner staff spend significant time around aging parents and their children. Here are seven ways we’ve seen to best love aging parents.

  1. Make time.

As adults in corporate America, we lead busy, fast-paced lives. So fast, in fact, that it can sometimes be easy to forget about our parents. But there will come a time when you’ll wish you had spent as much time with them as you could. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a few minutes to show you care. Take the Sunday afternoon to go visit. Deliver flowers on Valentine’s Day. Make the phone call just because. You’ll be glad you did.

  1. Listen.

Intentionally ask your parents about the things they’ve seen and done in their lives. Enjoy the stories…even if you’ve heard them 51 times. Showing interest will make them feel seen and valued. Take every opportunity to learn things about them—and from them—while you can.

  1. Ask the hard questions.

Aging parents will often be reluctant to admit loneliness, changing health and fears about aging. Ignoring these issues, though, would be unloving. Ask your parents how they’re really doing. Having these regular check-in conversations now lays the foundation for harder conversations in the future.

  1. Be willing to serve, but also willing to be served.

It may sound obvious, but your parents will always be your parents. They’re going to want to cook you dinner, babysit your kids and take you soup when you’re sick. Let them do this. They’re not fragile, and you’re not invincible. Honor their independence while it lasts, and love them by letting them love you the best ways they know how.

  1. Get involved with their lives.

Much like it’s important to know about your parents’ history, it’s equally important to know about their daily lives. Get involved with their day-to-day. Go to doctor appointments with them. They’ll want someone else there. Does your parent have a bucket list? Help them check some items off the list. You’ll have just as much fun as they will!

  1. Give them the respect they’ve earned.

Let’s face it, your parents have earned serious respect through the years. They’ve invested time, resources and emotional energy to help build the life you have today. Honor the things they’ve done. Show them respect by still asking for their advice and regularly thanking them for what they’ve given you.

  1. Show patience.

There will be things, like technology, that you’ll understand better than your parents. Be patient with their questions, frequent phone calls and frustration. Remember you were there once too, when they taught you addition and subtraction, how to tie your shoes and recite the ABCs. They might not ever understand what you’re trying to teach them, but at least they’ll know you care.

Bottom line, having aging parents is going to take courage. It’s going to take sacrifice and patience and a willingness to understand. But aren’t these the same things they needed when raising you?

Why you should be mentored by a senior adult

senior citizen doing crafts

In honor of National Mentoring Month, Mary Green of Parkway Place is sharing how mentoring benefits senior adults. Mary serves as the life enrichment coordinator at the Houston senior living community.

We’ve all heard the adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” I’ve never found this to be truer than in working with senior adults. Some may look frail, but they are full of the richest wisdom, sharpist wit and deepest relationships I’ve ever seen.

It’s no surprise, then, that senior adults should be at the top of the list for anyone looking for a mentor. Be it a specific skill, career direction or general life advice, senior adults have so much to offer. When it comes to seniors, though, the benefits of mentorship go both ways.

What you’ll get:

  • An understanding of why age is just a number. Developing a relationship with a senior adult teaches young people that you don’t lose your intellect or sense of humor when you age.
  • Improved communication skills. Talking to a senior adult is a learned skill. Conversation must be loud enough in case of hearing issues, but soft enough to not be patronizing or insulting.
  • A bigger picture. Senior adults, obviously, have a lifetime of experiences from which to draw. Unlike any other mentor-mentee relationship, they have a greater understanding of life’s bigger picture.

What you’ll give:

  • A sense of purpose. After retirement, older adults often feel like they have nothing to contribute to society. Giving them a sense of purpose can literally add years to their life.
  • Intellectual stimulation. An intentional relationship like mentoring gives older adults something to think about and plan for, much like they would for a job.
  • A renewal of faith in the future. Older generations can fall into the habit of thinking that all “kids” are lazy. To meet a young person who is motivated to learn something, however, can correct those stereotypes and give hope.
  • An identity outside of family and friends. To be in a mentor relationship where you are no longer “so-and-so’s grandmother” or “Mr. So-and-so’s widow” but are known simply as yourself helps with self-esteem.

Above all, the greatest benefit of mentorship for both sides is the breaking down of stereotypes. It may be human nature to put people in cubby holes and assume that a 90-year-old behaves one way while a 15-year-old behaves another. However, we have more in common with one another than we think. The best way to find out just how much is by building relationships.

To get connected with a senior adult at your local Buckner senior living community, contact 800-381-4551 or email us here.

How to choose the right senior living community

After nearly 30 years in the senior living industry, I’ve seen hundreds of people looking to find the right community. Adult children hoping to move their parents closer. Widows seeking friendship in the midst of grief. Couples building a new life after retirement.

Whatever brings you to look at a senior living community, there are a few things you need to think about during the process. You need to know what you’re looking for, and, just as importantly, what you’re not looking for.

Factors to consider:

1.    Location

Before looking at a community itself, look at the surrounding areas. This will be your new home, so you want your existing life to fit. Is there easy access to your local bank, church and grocery store? Can you maintain your normal routines? If you’re moving closer to family or just looking for a change of scenery, make a list of these kinds of places you’ll need and make sure they’re within close proximity.

2.    Continuum of care

A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) offers more than one area of living and care, such as independent living, assisted living, memory care and nursing. Some people choose stand-alone communities that may offer only one of these living or care areas, but having all of them available provides incredible peace of mind. Plan now to make your life easier should additional care needs arise.

3.    Staff dynamics 

What is the staff like? Are they friendly? How much interaction do they have with residents? Some staffs see the community as an employer, others see it as a family. Decide which best fits your personality and desired lifestyle.

4.    Faith-based

Whether you’re a person of faith or not, decide if you want your community to be faith-based. While faith-based communities don’t push their beliefs on residents, they do offer more religious programming, such as prayer gatherings and chapel services.

5.    Verbiage 

How do the website, marketing materials and staff members refer to the community? Do they call it an available “unit” or available “home”?  A dining “hall” or dining “room”? These little nuances speak volumes about the community’s overall atmosphere and approach to life.

Questions to ask:

1.    Can you join a resident for lunch, or attend an event at the community, before making a decision? You’ll want to get as much of a “day in the life” feel as possible.

2.    What is the typical fee increase, and how often does it increase?

3.    Is there a full-time life-enrichment director on staff? What kinds of activities are available?

4.    What is the average age of residents in independent living?

5.    Are visitors welcome any time?

Be sure you visit the community more than once. Talk to the residents each time. They won’t be shy about sharing their opinions, and you can learn a lot about a community by talking to those who live there.

If you use this guide to find the right community for you and your lifestyle, I guarantee you’ll be changed for the better. You’ll find a renewed sense of purpose, a more positive outlook and more fun than you ever imagined. And, if you’re like most, you’ll wish you’d done it sooner.

Dida Horton serves as the Senior Director of Marketing and Sales for Buckner Retirement Services. She’s been with Buckner since 2002.

Top three books on senior living

senior reading book

Retirement, senior living and health care for seniors are all topics that can easily become overwhelming. But they don’t have to.

January is National Book Month, so we’re taking the opporutnity to share our favorite senior living resources that help answer some of the industry’s most frequently asked questions.

1. The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest

National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner set out to study what are known as “blue zones,” areas across the globe that have distinctively higher longevity rates and numbers of centenarians.

What causes these people to live longer? Buettner and his team found that the root of a long, enjoyable life is simple: community. From dining to activities, his book provides researched support for the lifestyle our Buckner team creates. This lifestyle, of course, helps residents at each Buckner senior living community live the fullest lives possible.

2. I’m Still Here

There may not yet be an official cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are effective strategies for treating it.

The best way to treat Alzheimer’s? According to author John Zeisel, Ph.D., the key is focusing on the individual’s strengths. Abilities such as connecting to music and art are things that don’t diminish over time. Zeisel teaches readers how to utilize these and other strategies to connect with a loved one living with Alzheimer’s. His book is a must-read for any caregiver.

3. Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body

Author Missy Buchannan uses a series  of thoughtful devotions to answer the question many senior adults are asking: what’s my purpose now?

Aging naturally brings changes–lack of work, loss of loved ones, changing health. Buchannan’s words, however, help readers understand how to cope with these changes and still find meaning in everyday life. Whether you’re a senior adult or the loved one of a senior adult, learning to find this kind of hope is crucial–and something residents at Buckner communities work toward every day.

Things to do with someone who has Alzheimer’s

senior citizen with his grandchildren

Christmas is over and the holiday excitement is winding down. You’ve enjoyed quality family time, but what now?

For families of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, returning to daily life while still keeping the loved one engaged can be difficult. Here are 11 things you can do after the holidays or year-round with a loved one who suffers from memory loss.

  1. Clip coupons from the newspaper.
  2. Make a basket of socks.
  3. String cheerios on twine to hang outside for birds.
  4. Make a family tree poster using old family photos.
  5. Finish well-known phrases, Bible verses or songs.
  6. Try different hand lotions with pleasant scents.
  7. Cut up used paper to use for scratch craft paper.
  8. Play Pictionary.
  9. Polish silverware.
  10. Read the daily paper aloud.
  11. Have afternoon tea.

These tasks may seem trivial or menial, but for a person living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, having even a simple purpose can change the trajectory of an entire day. These and other activities can help the mind focus and limit frustrating distractions. Ultimately, these tasks remind them that they’re important and can still contribute to life.

For other tips and suggestions, check out a memory caregiver support group offered at most Buckner senior living communities. Call 800-381-4551 for more information.

Three ways to pray for families with loved ones on hospice this Christmas

The holidays are meant to be filled with hope and joy, time spent with family and friends as we celebrate the love we have for one another.

But for families with loved ones on hospice, this Christmas season may be one of their most difficult.

These families understand that this may be one of the last Christmases they spend with their loved one. Time-tested traditions are likely changing and perspectives shifting as they work to find joy during an uncertain time.

Whether you know a family currently experiencing an end-of-life journey or not, you can lend crucial support through prayer. Here are three specific ways you can pray for these families as you gather with your own loved ones this holiday season.

1. Pray for quality time.

For families with loved ones receiving hospice care, time is the one thing they want—and need—more than anything. Pray that the time they spend together is a peaceful time that brings joy to both the hospice patient and the family. Pray that they’re able to experience the joy of Christmas even in little moments together.

2. Pray for safety.

Oftentimes family members of loved ones on hospice care travel from across the country during the holidays to spend time with their loved one. Pray that these family members arrive safely in order to minimize stress and maximize time together.

3. Pray for closure.

Families with loved ones on hospice care know this Christmas may be the last they spend with their loved one. Pray that necessary conversations are had and questions are asked so that each member of the family can walk into the new year with a deeper appreciation for their loved one and a greater peace for whatever the weeks ahead may hold.

For more information on hospice care through Buckner and how you or your church can support local families walking through an end of life journey, contact us at 1-800-381-4551.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer…Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:12,15

Coping strategies for caregivers

The holidays can be stressful for anyone, but even more so for those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia. If you’re a caregiver for someone living with memory impairment, chances are you’re going to experience burnout to some degree this holiday season.

So how do you cope?

Here are six ways caregivers can deal with burnout, stress and anxiety during the holiday season.

  1. Breathe

You’d be surprised what thoughtful breathing can do for your mental, physical and emotional health. When you feel yourself reaching a breaking point, take a moment to simply breathe. Not sure what stress-reducing breathing exercises look like? These techniques are a good place to start.

  1. Eat relaxing foods

Did you know your diet can directly impact your stress level, just as much as your stress level can impact your diet choices? Foods rich in Vitamin C—like oranges—have been proven to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Other stress-reducing foods include avocados, nuts, salmon and oatmeal. Proactively make these part of your diet this holiday season, and you may be less likely to reactively “stress eat.”

  1. Listen to music

Studies show that listening to 30 minutes of music a day—in any genre and not necessarily consecutively—can have significant calming effects. And, unlike other coping strategies, you can take music with you wherever you go. Cooking a meal for the family? Turn on your favorite classical station. Driving your loved one to another medical appointment? Play some favorite tunes. Music helps clear your mind and remind you what’s important.

  1. Share the load

While the holidays are undeniably stressful for caregivers, they have the potential to be one of the most restorative times of the year. Take advantage of the extra helping hands when extended family comes, and let them help with the daily caregiving tasks. Allowing others to care for your loved one while they can provides them an opportunity to make memories with that loved one, while also giving you the opportunity to take a break.

  1. Walk

Most health studies suggest that 30 minutes of physical activity a day can help reduce stress. However, for many caregivers, devoting this extended amount of time to yourself is often unrealistic. Instead of giving up on your own physical health because you don’t have time to visit the gym, take just five minutes to walk around the block by yourself. The fresh air and physical movement will clear your mind and give you renewed perspective.

  1. Pray

As a faith-based nonprofit senior living provider, prayer is the coping strategy we find most effective for caregivers serving loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Pray with family, with your friends or by yourself. Pray for strength and peace.

For more resources on coping strategies for caregivers, check out these helpful articles from The Mayo Clinic and AgingCare. Or, call your local Buckner senior living community to learn about support group opportunities near you.

What not to say to a senior adult

senior talking with daughter

Senior adults are, at the core, adults.

They are real people with real stories, real emotions and real life experiences.

And yet, with the day-to-day humdrum of life, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the things we love most about these older adults while getting frustrated with the changes aging brings.

In the midst of these changes, there are certain things to not say, things we may not even realize we’re saying.

In this article by Next Avenue, a leading journalistic resource for senior adults and their families, author Linda Bernstein expertly lists eight things to never say to a senior adult.

As a faith-based not-for-profit senior living provider, we developed our own list of things to never tell a senior adult:

  1. “Sweetie.”

“Sweetie,” “sugar” or any variation of the two carry an inherent childlike tone. But senior adults are not children. They are grown adults with stories, histories and achievements. They’ve lived more life than some of their caregivers have combined, and therefore deserve the love and respect of an adult.

Instead of Sweetie, say “Mrs. Smith.” You can still provide tender affection with a soft touch or a gentle hug, but using a person’s name promotes dignity and respect.

  1. “Don’t you remember?”

While some senior adults living with memory impairment don’t recognize their changing brains, others do. They feel genuine frustration with the growing lack of control they have over their own bodies. Asking why they can’t remember only adds to the frustration and places the blame on the senior rather than on the Alzheimer’s or dementia itself.

Instead of asking questions, it may be helpful to simply listen. Then, provide your own comments. For example, instead of asking “Don’t you remember, we talked about this yesterday!” say simply, “Yes, we are going out to eat tonight. Would you like to join us?”

  1. “You need to _________.”

Senior adults have spent their lives giving and serving. They don’t need to be told what to do.

Instead of giving directions, give choices. Say “Mom, would you like to wear your sweater, or would you like to go without one?” Choices empower the senior adult to make the decisions for themselves. It puts them back in control, even as things around them feel out of control.

At the end of the day, a person is still a person. Recognizing that first and foremost will help further interactions with older adults to be fruitful and honoring to both parties. It helps minimize stress and maximize engagement.

© Buckner International. - Developed by LevLane
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