Awareness, preparation help everyone enjoy the season

By Michael J. Brooks
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Dementia affects millions of Americans and during the holidays the disease can play terrible tricks in the brains of those affected, in ways even caregivers might not expect, said Phronsie Owens, a registered nurse and certified trainer for Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia care and outreach coordinator at Piedmont Health Care Center.

Owens spoke at “Holiday Hints for Caregivers of Loved Ones with Dementia,” a seminar held Nov. 21 at River Highlands senior living center in Birmingham.

Holiday stress affects everyone but a person with dementia may be especially affected, Owens said.

She offered some tips for caregivers as the holiday season approaches.

1. Orient the patient to what is planned for the day.

“We could say, ‘Mother, we’re going to Jane’s today for lunch and then we’re going to stay for a few hours and visit with Jim and Sue, your grandchildren.’ This helps patients better orient themselves for the day’s activities.”

2. Advise family members ahead of time.

“I counsel caregivers never to ask, ‘Who am I?’ to patients,” she said. “This is playing a memory game they’re not equipped to play. They may know people but may not be able to remember their names. I always say, ‘Hi, Mrs. Jones. I’m Phronsie and I’m your nurse today.’”

3. Reduce background noise to lessen confusion.

“The TV or radio might be blaring in the background and this can be controlled,” she said. “Children might need to play in another room so it’s not as noisy. The dementia patient needs rest and calm.”

4. Use contrasting colors in table settings for the holidays.

“Psychology tells us red is an appealing color that stimulates hunger,” she said. “Many restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King use red in their color schemes. Dementia patients often have eating issues and may be confused with white place mats, tablecloths, plates and food. We suggest mixing up the colors for your mealtimes.”

5. Be aware of scammers.

People with dementia are easy prey for unscrupulous people, Owens said.

“They give money to people when they shouldn’t,” she said. “Someone comes to their home and promises to return and do some work but they need a down payment, for example. And they’re vulnerable to telephone scams allegedly from the IRS or Medicare.”


Resources for those living with dementia and their caregivers

Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) are local aging programs that provide information and services on a range of assistance for older adults and those who care for them. By contacting your local agency you receive access to critical information including:

• Available services in your area
• Mobility assistance programs, meal plans and housing
• Assistance in gaining access to services
• Individual counseling, support groups and caregiver training
• Respite care
• Supplemental services, on a limited basis.

Go to or call 800-AGE-LINE (800-243-5463) for more information.

Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama (ACA) serves 21 counties across central Alabama but accepts statewide and nationwide calls for information. Contact ACA if:

• You are noticing memory loss in a loved one which is disrupting his or her normal routine.
• You have a loved one who has been recently diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
• Your loved one has been diagnosed for several years and you need information and guidance.
• You are concerned about a friend or a neighbor.
• You are in need of a break from caregiving.
• You are looking for a support group to attend.
• You want someone to hear your story.

The ACA helpline is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 205-871-7970 or toll-free at 866-806-7255. More information is available at

• Dothan — Alzheimer’s Resource Center: 334-702-2273,

• Decatur — Mental Health Association in Morgan County: 256-353-1160,

• Mobile — Alzheimer’s Foundation of the South: 251-209-6766

• Montgomery — Alzheimer’s Education, Resources & Services, Inc. (AERS): 334-233-2139,

• Florence, Northwest Alabama — Coalition of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders: 256-740-5431,

For additional resources go to