Sharing the holidays with your loved one with dementia

Karen Swindler (right), daughter of Polly O'Donnell (left), is the oldest of nine children. (CBS2/FOX28)

Mary Isaacson and her husband Roland used to spend every Christmas skiing with family in Minnesota.

"Of course my husband was really a good skier," said Isaacson. "The double black diamonds, real daredevil."

Now, with Roland's Alzheimer's, the holidays with her spouse of 49 years are spent at Hiawatha Care Center.

"I love him that much, that where he is, we’ll make it as fun as we can," said Isaacson.

But it hasn't always been easy for Mary and her family, especially when Roland’s behavior began to change.

"I was kind of in denial. I tried to correct him all the time because I wasn’t used to that," said Isaacson.

Stephanie Humphries, owner of Right at Home care services in Cedar Rapids, says re-learning how to experience life with loved ones with dementia can be especially tough for families around the holidays, especially if it's been awhile since their last visit.

"They just really notice how much they have changed because they haven’t been around them on a regular basis," said Humphries.

Humphries encourages others to instead, meet loved ones where and when they are.

"Sometimes they think that they’re in 1950," said Humphries. "So I just encourage people to be with your loved one in 1950. Don’t try to say 'Oh mom, it’s 2018, come on!' "

In the 24 years since her mother’s first diagnosis, Karen Swindler has learned to do that.

"As her story’s unfolding, give her the driver’s seat," said Swindler.

Her mom, Polly O'Donnell, still expresses the nurturing qualities that she raised nine kids with, just in different ways now. Karen still remembers her mother as the farm girl who woke up at 5:30 every morning to iron nine school uniforms and encourages others to hold onto their memories.

"In our suffering, sometimes we can find a lot of joy and peace in recalling the things that are more precious than money or time," said Swindler. "My mom's taught all nine of us children the value of Christmas."

And this Christmas, she says to cherish every embrace.

"Holding them close, calming them--whatever it is, don't lose that opportunity," said Swindler.

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