Holidays are a joyous time filled with family and friends. But for families living with loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, it can be a challenging time of year. With travel, disrupted routines, and stresses of the season, families may feel extra strain. We’ve shared some tips to help ease potential difficulties.
If you are a caretaker or family member caring for a loved one with dementia, it is important to prepare yourself, and try to stay in-tune to emotions and stresses. The added layer of holiday stress can make the caregiving job seem daunting and take a toll. However, there are ways to prepare:
Communicate: Talk with family and friends about how you're feeling, and how they can help. If you need a break to be able to run errands, or holiday shop, communicate with your loved ones to arrange for that time.
Take care of your health: Stress can take a toll on your body. Take the time to care for yourself, to manage the stress, to eat well, and to attend scheduled doctor’s appointments.
Make plans that better suit your current needs: If your loved one’s dementia has progressed, you may need to adjust regular holiday traditions. If evening confusion or agitation is a problem, you may consider changing your holiday celebrations to a brunch or lunch. It may be helpful to avoid triggers, so inform others of what to avoid.
Involve the Person with Dementia
Check-in with your loved ones. For those in the early stages of dementia, they may prefer to avoid large group gatherings or socializing, or maybe they will find comfort in the holiday norms and traditions. Simply checking-in with them can help ease holiday anxiety.
Maintain traditions, or variations on traditions: Routines or holiday traditions can be helpful, and can trigger comforting memories. It may be helpful to sing familiar holiday songs, watch old holiday films, or glance through old photo albums.
Involve your loved one with dementia in preparations: Ask them to help put out decorations, help with gift wrapping or take them out shopping.
Try to maintain routine: Routine is key, try to build in breaks, and maintain regular medication and sleep schedules as best as possible.
Familiarize Others with the Situation
Prior to gatherings, familiarize family and friends with the current situation and state of health of your loved one. The Alzheimer’s Association shares the following tips: “If the person is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, relatives and friends might not notice any changes. But, the person with dementia may have trouble following conversation or tend to repeat him or herself. Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts. If the person is in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer's, there may be significant changes in cognitive abilities since the last time an out-of-town friend or relative has visited. These changes can be hard to accept. Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person.”
Give the Gift of Relaxation or Respite Care
Do you know a family living with a loved one with dementia? Gift certificates for massages or salon services, movie tickets, restaurant gift certificates, or cleaning services can give a caregiver a much-needed break. Consider paying for short-term or respite services to give family caregivers time away, and peace of mind.