FAMILY — Debbie and Ron Hinkle pose with their family.
Herald Photo / Provided
FAMILY — Debbie and Ron Hinkle pose with their family. Herald Photo / Provided

Alzheimer’s Disease takes its toll on family members who live with the disease daily. 

Navigating the holidays can be extra stressful on those affected by Alzheimer’s, so taking time to become educated on how to navigate the season can be a valuable tool for caregivers, family members, and friends.

“It’s different for everyone. That’s one thing that I learned at the very beginning, and it’s a common statement in our meetings that if you’ve seen one Alzheimer’s person, you’ve seen one because everyone reacts different. No two are alike,” said caregiver Debbie Hinkle. 

Debbie’s husband, Ron, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in February 2013, and, in his case, his vision and hearing have been affected to the point that Christmas lights and the standard hustle and bustle of the season are overwhelming for him.

“Any lights, noise, additional anything, it wreaks havoc on him. It gets agitating and uncomfortable. He can’t handle it. That means, like last year and so far this year, we haven’t even put up a Christmas tree, and we can’t plan on Christmas gatherings like we used to because it is too much,” said Debbie.

The couple has several grandchildren, all ages 9 and under, so it is difficult to be around them for long stretches of time due to noise, confusion, and movement, so for the Hinkles, they will visit with family for about an hour before returning home.

“We have been spending it alone and maybe for an hour or so at one of the kids’ house with others there. Then we leave. It’s just not the big season that it used to be,” Debbie said. “When we do have whatever when we can get together, we just do our thing and include him as much as possible. He usually just sits and watches. We try to include him. We don’t leave him out, but we still have to do what we have to do. It has to be curtailed and minimized, and usually he has to be medicated beforehand.”

Debbie said Ron’s illness has progressed enough that he cannot remain by himself, which makes simple shopping trips to the grocery store difficult. Additionally, people who no longer communicate with them or visit anymore has been very difficult.

“What I would like people to know is that it’s OK. Even if you stop for five minutes, it’s enough to let us know you are there and you care and to give him a memory. The no contact is what hurts the most,” she said.

Debbie is a member of Alzheimer’s Disease support groups (in person and online), where she has found reassurance from others taking a similar journey. She said members of the group will share their experiences so that other can know someone else has been there.

“It’s just the fact knowing other people have experienced this. They share what they’ve been through, so it will help us in the future, so we won’t get so down. We’ll know this is our new normal, and it helps us to accept it,” said Debbie. “If you can ever accept it.”

Debbie said that when Ron was first diagnosed he said in the very beginning that he didn’t like the diagnosis, but at least he had an answer. He told his wife that they will deal with the disease with laughter, which she said happens quite a bit. 

“We told him that when you laugh, we’ll laugh with you, but there will be times we’ll need to laugh at you. And it has happened,” she said. 

Debbie said it was important for caregivers to take time for self, when and if they can. She said it was OK to know that it’s OK to go with the flow if something doesn’t go the way it was planned. Remember to be patient, and if something happens, just move on.