holiday

The holidays are a highly anticipated, but often stressful, season. For many, our financial, social, and physical demands increase significantly as the holidays rapidly approach. Buying gifts for others, entertaining guests, and making travel arrangements are common added responsibilities at this time of year. If you are a caregiver for a person with dementia, it may be difficult to juggle these additional tasks alongside your routine care provision.

Interactions with family members may add another layer of stress or possibly contention. Family members that visit for the holidays may be taken aback by the changes they observe in the person with dementia. They may be unsure of how to respond to the person with Alzheimer’s, and they may not use appropriate techniques. For others, suspicions that a family member has a memory loss disorder could be surfaced for the first time at a holiday gathering. Other issues, such as the person’s safety or whether he/she should be living alone, may not be addressed until the family comes together. Members of the family may disagree and conflict could ensue.

Little research has been done about caregiving during the holiday season, although it has been acknowledged by many as a uniquely stressful phenomenon. Below are some helpful hints on how to best prepare for and survive this special time of year. Happy Holidays everyone!

Prepare Family Members in Advance

The holidays are full of emotions, so it can help to let guests know what to expect before they arrive. Initiating the conversation early will also allow family members an opportunity to surface any questions or concerns they may have.

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/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.

You may find this easier to share changes in a letter or email that can be sent to multiple recipients. Consider also including a recent photograph of the person with dementia, so family/friends are aware of any physical changes that may have taken place. Here are some examples of what you may write:

>> “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 on how to let others know about changes in your loved one, join ALZConnected, our online support community where caregivers like you share tips on what has worked for them.

Re-evaluate Holiday Traditions

It’s likely that both  the person with dementia and the family would still like him/her to participate meaningfully in the holiday celebrations. Involve the person by building on past traditions and memories. Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums. As the person’s abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or hand decorations to you as you put them up. (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.)

Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the holidays from becoming disruptive or confusing. For instance, if the person is accustomed to eating lunch at a scheduled time, stick to that time. Encourage family members and friends to assist you in this. Plan time for breaks and rest.

Be flexible and adjust traditions appropriately. For example, a smaller, shorter gathering during the day may be more successful than a large celebration that carries on into the late evening.

Adapt Gift-Giving

gift

Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person with dementia. Some gifts may be unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person with dementia needs or can easily enjoy. Ideas include: an identification bracelet (available through MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return®), comfortable clothing, audiotapes of favorite music, videos and photo albums. Also, put respite care on your wish list. If friends or family ask what you want for a gift, suggest a gift certificate or something that will help you take care of yourself as you care for your loved one. This could be a cleaning or household chore service, an offer to provide respite care, or something that provides you with a bit of rest and relaxation.

When the Person is in a Care Facility

  • Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities
  • Bring a favorite holiday food to share
  • Sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in
  • Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud

References

Liken, Michelle A, PhD,R.N., C.S. (2001). (Not) a hallmark holiday: Experiences of family caregivers of a relative with alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 39(12), 32-7. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/225538122?accountid=27927

http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-holidays.asp

http://www.alz.org/national/documents/topicsheet_holidays.pdf

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