Caregiver Corner: Crossing the threshold of winter

Winter is a difficult season for many in the Pacific Northwest. The days are dark, cold, and wet. Many of us, including our family members with dementia, feel a little lethargic and blue. There are things we can do to fight the winter doldrums – including getting outside – but if you care for a family member with dementia, “getting outside” may be easier said than done. However, staying inside and being inactive can affect mood and sleep and can contribute to evening irritability. Try to spend some time outdoors every day (ideally in the morning).

Here are some of my tips for getting outside:

  1. Keep your outings simple. Walk around the block or take a 5 minute stroll. As the sky lightens and the weather warms, you’ll likely find yourselves outside for even longer.
  2. If your family member has some trouble with walking, think about renting (or buying) a transfer chair. This can be lighter and easier to manage than wheelchairs.
  3. Bundle up. Invest in good rain coats and shoes for both you and your family member with dementia.
  4. Pick a deciduous tree to watch every day. Notice when the buds open up or the leaves peak out. This activity helps give the walks meaning.

The hardest part about going outside is crossing the threshold, from your home to the outdoors. Be positive and confident. If your first outings are simply three steps out of the house, give yourself credit. Each day will be easier.

Support is available. The best way to find someone who can team up with you is to call a local organization. In Portland, the Multnomah County Family Caregiver Support Program offers help and support, 503-988-3646. The Alzheimer’s Association can also be a great source of support, 800-272-3900. Oregon Care Partners offers free caregiver training (on-line and in-person), 1-800-930-6851.

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