The holidays are a wonderful time. But with all of the good that comes along with the holidays—family, friends and traditions—added stress can also creep into our lives. This is especially true for families caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other dementias; however, with some planning and flexibility, the holidays can be happy celebrations to share with the entire family.
Prepare family and friends for changes they might notice in a loved one.
If your loved one is in the early stages, they may have trouble following conversation or finishing their thoughts. Visitors can help by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and allowing the person to finish her thought.
If a loved one is in the middle or late stages, changes may have become more significant since family members have seen her. This can be difficult, so prepare your family with specific changes they will see. It may be easier to share changes through a letter or e-mail sent to multiple recipients. For example:
While we look forward to seeing you for the holidays, we’d like to let you know of a few changes in ____ since you last visited. Among the changes you may notice are …
Be honest and set reasonable expectations both you and the person with Alzheimer’s can live up to.
Adjust expectations and traditions.
Make sure everyone knows your caregiving situation and what your loved one with Alzheimer’s needs. If a daily routine is important, schedule the day around a regular routine. If you’ve always invited several people to your home, consider a smaller gathering or breaking larger visits into smaller groups.
Let others contribute. Rather than cooking an entire meal, have a potluck or ask another family member or friend to host.
If your loved one lives in a care facility, encourage family and friends to bring the holidays to her. Share facility planned holiday activity schedules and plan to visit together. Bring a favorite holiday food, photos from past celebrations or her favorite holiday story.
Prepare the person with Alzheimer’s.
Holidays disrupt daily routines and patterns, which can be difficult for people living with Alzheimer’s. Do your best to prepare her as well. Talk about who will be visiting, show photos of visitors and share different activities that are planned.
Have a quiet room you can go to if things get overwhelming. Holiday decorations, while beautiful, can be over stimulating and take up a lot of room. Keep decorations to a minimum, especially if they are loud and flashy, and make sure there is ample room to walk without tripping or falling.
Involve the person with Alzheimer’s.
Focus on traditions and activities that are meaningful to your loved one. Maybe she enjoy old holiday songs or stories. Allow her to help prepare traditional meals by measuring or stirring ingredients, wrap gifts or put up decorations—again, less is more and avoid anything too flashy.
Be good to yourself.
Allow yourself to do only what you can. Remember that the holidays are a time to spend time with people you love. Try to make the holidays as easy on yourself and your loved one with Alzheimer’s so you can enjoy your time together, too. Ask for help, arrange for respite or in home care and set limits to reduce stress.
For more tips on preparing for the holidays visit the Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Center.
Contributor Becca Verda is the communications and marketing manager at the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter.