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Living Fully With Alzheimer's

10 strategies for keeping loved ones connected to family and community

Reinvent family get-togethers. Surrounding Alzheimer's patients with their families is good for everyone — it can help the patient's memory and mood, and help family members feel involved. Leonard, for example, enjoys her family's traditional Sunday dinner, which gives her siblings a chance to spend time with both parents. Sometimes, though, crowds can be overwhelming. Gregoire, who is one of 10 children, says it helped to actually assign someone to her dad for each hour. "We'd create a calm corner where he was comfortable, and take turns watching him. If he needed a break, that person would take him outside or to another room."

Feed your own passions. Caregivers need more than a little relief now and then: They need to have their own hobbies and outlets, something Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, calls "creative compensation." For Speidel, it's bowling or a day in the woods hunting birds. For Nye, it's golf three times a week, no matter what. "This disease creates a void," says Mandel, who had two parents with the illness. "We need to help fill it with something good."

Keep your heart open for magical moments. "I peeked out over the banister recently and my mom was sitting in the living room, listening to my son and daughter play their guitars. She was saying, 'You're such a good big brother. Will you promise to take care of your sister, even when I'm not around?' I just wanted to melt," says Daniels.
 
And on a cruise to the Arctic Circle, Speidel surprised Joan with a ceremony to renew their vows, a day filled with orchids, champagne and chocolate.  "About 50 people we met onboard showed up, and they were so kind," he says. "It's amazing how caring people can be if you just talk to them about Alzheimer's."

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