For families coping with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, the holidays can be bittersweet times filled with family and friends, as well as stress and frustration. Festivities can agitate, confuse and over-stimulate the person with dementia. Caregivers can feel anxious, frustrated and lonely – leading to stress and depression. Here are seven tips for surviving the holidays while caring for a person with dementia.
1 – Plan ahead to minimize stress during the holidays
Consider ahead of time the effect the holidays might have, both socially and emotionally, on you and your loved one with dementia. Discuss holiday celebrations with relatives and close friends and set appropriate limits in advance. Plan to maintain a regular routine while trying to provide a pleasant, meaningful and calm holiday season.
2 – Take care of yourself
Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself and the person with Alzheimer’s disease so that you can focus on enjoying your time together. As always, ask for assistance for you and your loved one when you feel overloaded, and if possible, arrange for in-home respite care so you can enjoy a movie or lunch with a friend to reduce your stress.
3 – Prepare the person with Alzheimer’s for family gatherings
Show photos and talk about family members and friends who will be visiting. Have a “quiet” room in case things get too hectic, and schedule naps or rest times. Play familiar music and serve favorite traditional holiday foods.
4 – Prepare family members and friends
Preparing families and friends with an honest appraisal of the person’s behaviors and changes in condition can help avoid uncomfortable or harmful situations. Recommend practical and useful gifts, and remind them that communication with their loved one with Alzheimer’s will require an extra effort.
5 – Include the person with Alzheimer’s in family activities
Consider taking walks, icing cookies, telling stories, doing chores, making a memory book or family tree, or keeping a journal. To encourage conversation, place magazines, scrapbooks, or photo albums in reach; play music to prompt dancing or other kinds of exercise.
6 – Communicate with kindness and patience
Alzheimer’s can diminish a person’s ability to communicate. Be calm and supportive if the person has trouble communicating, and speak slowly with a relaxed tone. Avoid frustration or criticism if the person cannot remember a previous conversation or repeats the same comments or stories multiple times.
7 – Suggest appropriate gifts
Encourage family and friends to give useful, practical gifts for the person, such as an identification bracelet, comfortable and easy-to-remove clothing, throw blankets or pillows, videos, photo albums and favorite music. If possible, involve the person with dementia in giving gifts. For example, someone who once enjoyed cooking may enjoy baking cookies for the family gathering.