Summertime Tips to Live Well with Dementia
How care partners can help to brighten summer days.
This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.
Summertime can be an enjoyably active time of year for anyone, including for those living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. The warm weather brings us out of our homes in the hopes of spending time in the nice weather.
It is also a popular time of year for social gatherings. No longer confined indoors because of the cold and snow, we head outdoors to barbeque, bike or take part in a pool party together. There can be opportunities to go to the beach for a swim, for a hike in the woods or to see a celebratory game or two.
But, as with many aspects of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, the summertime comes with positives and negatives.
A welcome chance to socialize
My hometown is in a suburb of New Jersey. The street my family has lived on for the past 30 years is not very busy. It’s not located near the hub of a main street nor is it bustling with cars and buses throughout the day. That is, until you step outside on a weekend in the summer when families are out riding bikes, discussions can be heard about which lawnmower works best and grilling is a common occurrence.These opportunities for interaction and socialization are what makes the summertime so exciting, and it’s a good time of year to get your loved one living with dementia outside in the community — just as we did with my dad, John, who lived with Alzheimer's disease.
Social engagement is very important for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It is very easy to become shut in during the cold winter months and lose out on the chance to see friends, family and neighbours. The summer months may provide many opportunities to reverse these habits, but they can also bring extra daily challenges.
Based on my experiences with my dad, here are some tips I'd like to share to help you address common challenges:
1. Ensure comfort and accessibility at events
If you are considering bringing your loved one living with dementia to a party or barbeque, there are some things to think about ahead of time. First, give your host a heads up prior to arriving. This will give them an opportunity to inform any other guests about your loved one’s diagnosis.Then, ask if there is a space for them to sit that isn’t too noisy. It can take so much effort for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease to process what is being said to them and background noise makes it even more taxing.
Additionally, there could be dietary restrictions for your loved one. You may need to bring your own food or ask about what will be available. A little planning can make parties and events more relaxed for everyone involved.
2. Provide a safe place to sit outside
Our home has a small patio with two chairs at the end of the front walkway. This was a favourite spot for my dad, who had Alzheimer’s disease, to sit and watch the neighbourhood “goings on” during the summer. I was happy to join him after work to take time to relax and catch up. Sitting outside is a great way to start up a conversation with so many topics to comment on.
Dad enjoyed seeing people ride their bikes and it often led to a story about him as a child riding through his own neighbourhood. Being able to be seated in a safe, calm environment is good for fostering conversation. Having those chairs on the walkway, a good distance from the street, provided that safe space for dad.
3. Maintain hydration during the summer heat
With increased sunlight and more time spent outdoors comes the summer heat. Trying to keep your loved one well hydrated can prove to be a challenge depending on which stage of Alzheimer’s disease they are in. This is when establishing designated items for your loved one early on can come in handy.
Once dad received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, my family and I recognized the importance of keeping a routine and setting aside specific items just for him. He had his own towels, dishes and cups to use every day. There was one cup for cold beverages, specifically water, that was continuously presented to him throughout the day during the years he lived with Alzheimer’s. In the summertime, when he was in the disease’s middle stages, he was more likely to use and accept that cup. Also, using flavoured water or watered-down sports drinks may prompt your loved one to drink more because of the taste.
Clearly the summer months bring lots of opportunities for us to be outside and gather to do fun activities, including chances to engage in social interactions with friends and family and maybe hear an untold story from your loved one’s past. However, summer can also present the challenges of staying hydrated in the heat or the encouragement of wandering in nice weather.
It is a balancing act between fun and safety and joy and worry. But, as with all things with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, a bit of planning might just make summertime more enjoyable for all.
GET MORE INFORMATION
Read more from Frances McInerney in At the Kitchen Table or check out her blog and Instagram.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As the former primary caregiver of her father, John, who was diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s, Frances worked in tandem with her mother to navigate the ups and downs of the disease. During her experience living with and caring for her dad, Frances was able to use her expertise as a speech-language pathologist to facilitate verbal and non-verbal communication, promote interpersonal relationships, and support his independence with daily living skills.
Frances’ passion for advocating for individuals with neurological impairments, such as Alzheimer’s disease, paired with extensive experience with speech and language intervention, provides a unique perspective.
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