While family members of those facing Alzheimer's disease or a related illness might question the sentiment of the holidays, experts say that it is possible to not only keep the cheer in the holidays, but also to savor them.
Communicate concerns. In advance of the holidays, be candid with family and friends about your loved one's condition and your concerns, and enlist their support. Use this season of giving as an opportunity to discuss sharing family responsibilities and to strive for family togetherness.
Set realistic expectations. Consider both what the individual with dementia is capable of and what you, as a caregiver, can handle given your demanding role. Then, put celebrations into manageable proportions.
Select appropriate activities. Understand the individual's current mental condition and do special things that they can still appreciate. Engage your loved one in singing and dancing since these abilities tend to remain intact longer. Try to spark memories by bringing out family photographs or heirlooms.
Pare down traditions. With round-the-clock care giving, it may not be feasible to juggle all of your religious and ethnic observances. You can still keep traditions alive; just reduce their number. Ask your loved one which traditions to choose; it is another way to involve them.
Adapt family gatherings. Since crowds, noise and altering routines can aggravate confusion, revising your get-togethers may be in order. Instead of entertaining the whole clan, limit the number of attendees at a holiday dinner or spread out several smaller gatherings on different days. Mark a calendar with upcoming visits to make your loved one feel special.
Stick with familiar settings. Because new environments can increase disorientation and pose safety concerns, discard restaurants or relatives' houses in favor of your own home. Likewise, if Mass is still important to your loved one, consider how they can participate.
Head off problems. Avoid alcohol, which may cause depression, increase the risk of falls and add to the loss of brain cells. Try to schedule holiday activities or visits earlier in the day before the potential for sundowning—behavioral problems that typically occur toward dusk among those in the middle stages of dementia.
Limit holiday decorations. Decorations can still adorn your home, but in moderation. Hang cheerful ones that recall memories and family traditions. Do not overdo the ornaments on a Christmas tree. Too many decorations can clause clutter and over stimulation, which can intensify disorientation and agitation.
Re-think gift giving. Find ways to include your loved one, depending on their capabilities. You might take them to a store to buy presents, and offer extra guidance. Or, you can buy the gifts for them and wrap them together since many individuals with dementia like handling paper. In giving presents, pick ones appropriate for someone with the disease.
For example, photographs and heirlooms provide the opportunity to reminisce.
Welcome youngsters. It is important to include children, it is also important to consider their feelings. If their loved one uses inappropriate language or easily becomes angry during the visit, explain that this behavior is not personal or intentional; it is part of the disease. Youngsters' excitement about the holidays can be contagious.
Join a support group. A forum to express feelings and socialize can help overcome sadness for both caregivers and individuals in the early stages of dementia. Enjoy yourself. The greatest gift at the holidays is time.
Ask a family member, friend or healthcare professional to keep your loved one company so you can relish some time for yourself.
For information on Alzheimer's care, contact Spring Arbor.
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America