‘Tis the season to be jolly but for families living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, the holidays can be challenging. That doesn’t mean they can’t be happy. The Alzheimer’s Association provided Pulse with holiday tips for families living with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Familiarize Others with the Situation
The holidays are often a time when we get together with family and friends we may not have seen in a while—and they may not all be privy to what your loved one is going through. Give them a head’s up by sharing these changes in a letter or e-mail. A few examples:
>> “I’m writing to let you know how things are going at our house. While we’re looking forward to your visit, we thought it might be helpful if you understood our current situation before you arrive.
>> “You may notice that ___ has changed since you last saw him/her. Among the changes you may notice are ___.
>> “Because ___ sometimes has problems remembering and thinking clearly, his/her behavior is a little unpredictable.
>> “Please understand that ___ may not remember who you are and may confuse you with someone else. Please don’t feel offended by this. He/she appreciates your being with us and so do I.”
For more ideas, visit ALZConnected.com, an online support community of caregivers.
Know What to Expect
People in early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease do not always display obvious signs of changes but may struggle to follow the conversation or repeat him/herself. Family can help by being patient, not interrupting or correcting and giving the person time to finish his/her thoughts. People in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer’s may show significant changes in cognitive abilities, which may catch visitors off guard. Make sure guests understand that these changes are caused by the disease, not the person.
Caregiving responsibilities can be stressful and, when combined with a family’s desire to maintain holiday traditions, can take a toll. Invite family and friends to speak prior to the gathering. Explain your caregiving situation, including any limitations or needs such as keeping a daily routine, to help set realistic expectations about what you can do. Be good to yourself and only take on what you can reasonably manage. If the usual five-course meal for 20 is going to be too much, consider having a few smaller gatherings, a potluck or a lunch or brunch. This may also help the person with Alzheimer’s Disease from getting overtired.
Involve the Person with Alzheimer’s Disease
Build on past traditions and memories by focusing on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. S/he may find comfort in singing a favorite song or looking through old photos. As the person’s abilities allow, invite him/her to help prepare food or set the table. This can be as simple as measuring ingredients or handing you decorations so you can hang them up. A word of warning: Be careful with decoration choices. Blinking lights may confuse or scare a person with dementia, and decorations that look like food could be mistaken as edible.
Some gifts may be unusable or even dangerous as a person’s capacities diminish. The Alzheimer’s Association suggested items like an identification bracelet (available through MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®), comfortable clothing, audiotapes of favorite music, videos and photo albums. As for your own wish list, put caring for yourself at the very top. A gift certificate to a favorite restaurant, setting up a cleaning or household chore service or helping provide respite care to allow you to have some well-deserved R&R are a few suggestions.
When the Person Lives in a Care Facility
Remember a holiday is still a holiday even if it is celebrated at a facility. Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities. Bring a favorite holiday food to share, sing holiday songs and read favorite stories or poems out loud.
Remember to take a deep breath. With some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can still be happy, memorable occasions.
The Alzheimer’s Association Is Here 24/7
The holiday season brings about hustle and bustle, but the Alzheimer’s Association is always available to lend an ear or hand. The organization’s toll-free 24/7 Helpline provides reliable information and support to all those who need assistance. The 24/7 Helpline serves people with memory loss, caregivers, health care professionals and the public.
The highly trained staff can help you with understanding memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease; medications and other treatments; general information about aging and brain health; skills to provide quality care and to find the best care from professionals; referrals to local community programs, services and ongoing support; and legal, financial and living-arrangement decisions.
When you call the helpline, you will receive confidential care consultation provided by Master’s-level clinicians who can help with decision-making support, crisis assistance and education on issues families face every day.
The translation services feature more than 200 languages and dialects, which allows callers to receive services in their preferred language.
Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7: 1-800-272-3900
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s®.