Holiday Stress Management

Memory care community offers relief for caregivers.

Donna* describes her mother, Meredith, as an 81-year-old firecracker who’s very physically fit. Donna says her mother has been that way all her life and can even outrun and outjump her.

Donna (alias) talks about how her mother, Meredith (alias), is doing at Symphony at St. Augustine. Tara Tosh and Nancy Nichols of Symphony at St. Augustine discuss managing holiday stress in loved ones with dementia.

Tara Tosh

Two years ago, however, Meredith was diagnosed with frontal temporal lobe dementia.

“Mom’s symptoms started a year after my father’s death, which was in mid June 2015, and were vague at first,” Donna shares. “My sisters and I live fifteen hundred miles away, so we checked on Mom by phone daily and every six weeks, one of us went to Florida for a week or two to be with her.

“Then, we started getting phone calls from Mom’s neighbors who were saying Mom was doing funny things and wondering if she should still be living alone.

“The neighbors told us Mom was getting lost driving in the neighborhood, and she backed up and hit a mailbox. She also broke the back windshield of her SUV and wasn’t home when the technician came to the house to fix it. She started going days without sleeping and got a little delusional. She started saying things that didn’t make sense.”

Initially, Meredith ended up in emergency care, where she was diagnosed with dementia. She then went to an assisted living facility, where she developed a close bond with staff member Nancy Nichols.

Not long thereafter, Nancy left that community to become the marketing director at Symphony at St. Augustine, a memory care facility for people with dementia. The move had a great effect on Meredith.

“I almost felt like my mother was grieving for Nancy,” Donna relates. “It was another loss for her. I kept Nancy’s number in my phone and eventually called her and arranged to have my mother moved to Symphony at St. Augustine. That was in December of last year.

“Symphony at St. Augustine was like Walt Disney World®. We were very impressed and loved the staff. My sister and I talked to Nancy and then met the executive director Tara Tosh. My sister and I said, Mom will like it here. It’s all memory care, and she can be outside in the park if she wants to be.”

Because Meredith was fond of doing housework, Donna was not surprised that Symphony at St Augustine’s housekeeping staff became some of Meredith’s best friends. But it was in the community’s kitchen that she found her second calling.

“Mom helps the kitchen staff with breakfast, lunch and dinner,” states Donna. “She folds napkins, puts the silverware together and makes sure everybody’s got their meals in front of them. She loves working and being in that work atmosphere. I think working in the kitchen promotes a lot of self-esteem for her.

“Mom likes it at Symphony at St. Augustine, but if you ask her, she’ll say she’s going home any day now. The structure they offer there, as well as the activities, are very good for my Mom.”

Holiday Option

The holidays can be stressful for anyone, but they can be extra stressful for someone with dementia or someone caring for a loved one with dementia. Adding shopping, holiday parties, travel, family gatherings and other activities to the hustle and bustle of daily life can lead to confusion and acting out in people with dementia, and fatigue and guilt in caregivers.

Donna (alias) talks about how her mother, Meredith (alias), is doing at Symphony at St. Augustine. Tara Tosh and Nancy Nichols of Symphony at St. Augustine discuss managing holiday stress in loved ones with dementia.

“We love Symphony at St. Augustine and we love that Mom is thriving there.” -Donna

“Primary caregivers try to squeeze in activities at church or with grandchildren, and get stressed because they can’t leave their loved ones with dementia home for long because they’re not safe,” describes Tara. “Then when the caregivers get home, they feel guilty because their loved ones feel that stress and might act out with a negative behavior.

“The holidays are also a common time for depression in any senior, much more so in people who have dementia. It’s a time of year when they look for loved ones they’ve lost and think about family gatherings they used to have. At home, there’s generally not much conversation or interaction with others.”

Meredith’s move to Symphony at St. Augustine came right around the holidays, a time when caregivers for people with dementia sometimes become stressed and anxious that they’re not giving their loved ones enough time and attention.

Caregivers also worry that their added activities at this time of year interfere with their loved ones’ routine schedules. To help alleviate those concerns, Symphony at St. Augustine offers short-term stays for those loved ones with dementia.

“When caregivers need a respite and want a more stimulating environment for their loved ones with dementia, they can be comfortable leaving their loved ones here because it’s a safe environment,” offers Tara.

“Their loved ones will be happy here. There are activities to keep them active, and they’ll be around other people the same age, so they’ll make friends. There’s a daily routine and schedule, which helps people with dementia stay focused. Many of them love it so much here that they decide to stay permanently.”

The atmosphere at Symphony at St. Augustine is always warm and inviting, but it is especially so during the holidays. The campus is festively decorated, and it opens its doors to family members and friends to celebrate with residents. There are many scheduled activities with a holiday flavor.

“Family members don’t have to feel guilty, because their loved ones are celebrating the holidays,” assures Tara. “The building is decorated to a tee to bring joy to the residents. Often, when people get older, they don’t decorate as much because they get tired. The residents will get to see our staff’s holiday spirit.”

Donna (alias) talks about how her mother, Meredith (alias), is doing at Symphony at St. Augustine. Tara Tosh and Nancy Nichols of Symphony at St. Augustine discuss managing holiday stress in loved ones with dementia.

Nancy Nichols

“Caregivers and family members can have holiday dinner with the residents,” adds Nancy. “Dinner will always be at the same time. Here, everything stays on schedule, even on the holidays. Structure is vital for people with memory problems because it decreases negative behavior and keeps their expectations even. It’s very important to stick to a routine.”

Being There

Meredith’s was a permanent stay from the beginning, not a converted short stay. Donna opted to cut back on her visits for a while so Meredith could get accustomed to living at the community.

“Mom went to Symphony at St. Augustine the first week of December, and I chose to stay away for a couple of weeks so she could get acclimated,” Donna confirms. “Of course, I was there to celebrate the holidays.”

Donna retired last year and now lives in Florida from the beginning of November until late June. Now that she’s in Florida during the holiday season, she gets to spend that time with Meredith. Donna’s sister visits with her mother as well. Between the two of them, Meredith is never alone during the holidays.

“We love Symphony at St. Augustine,” Donna exudes, “and we love that Mom is thriving there.”

*Patients’ names were changed to protect their privacy.
Print This Article
    • Symphony at St. Augustine

      Symphony at St. Augustine is a world-class, memory care community nestled in a quietly convenient neighborhood near one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. Residents enjoy an unrivaled attention to detail that is evident in everything f... Read More