Make the Holidays Merrier for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

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Make the Holidays Merrier for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

The holidays are a great time to reminisce or make new memories with friends and family.

But for people battling Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia, and their caregivers, the holidays can be a stressful and even frightening time, says the Alzheimer’s Association.

The person with dementia might not recognize the friend or relative stopping by to say hello or realize it’s Christmas, and a whirlwind of parties and visits could be an upsetting disruption in their normal routine. Imagine suddenly being surrounded by strangers in a strange place, and you might understand how the person with dementia sees the situation.

For caregivers, organizing visits, special meals or parties can be one more task on a long to-do list, or a heartbreaking reminder of the change in their loved one.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers its advice for making the holidays a little merrier for everyone involved:

  • Bring loved ones up to speed about the person with dementia’s condition, and let them know in advance what to expect. Early-stage dementia might not be noticeable; but mid- or late-stage dementia is hard to miss, and for those who haven’t seen the person in a while, the change can be shocking. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it will save hurt feelings and confusion during the visit if friends and relatives understand the person with dementia’s abilities and behaviors before the get-together.
  • Adjust everyone’s expectations. Set up a conference call or group e-mail exchange, and make sure everyone understands some holiday traditions may have to be trimmed back. That might mean the caregiver cuts the guest list for Christmas dinner or it might mean planning a potluck instead of a formal sit-down dinner and asking everyone to bring a dish to share.
  • Flexibility is key. Some people with dementia become agitated or aggressive at night. If that’s a problem with your loved one, switch the usual dinner hour celebration to a lunch or brunch. If you stick to a night-time celebration, keep the room brightly lit, and try to avoid items or situations that might trigger your loved one acting out.
  • Involve the person with dementia in the celebration as much as possible. Let them help with favorite traditions, such as making and decorating cookies or trimming the tree as much as they’re able to.
  • Build on past memories and traditions, including singing Christmas carols, looking at old photos or watching favorite films.
  • Safety first: Trims and decorations are lovely to look at, but they can be hazardous to people with dementia. Blinking lights can be confusing and may trigger acting out, or the person with dementia might try to eat decorations that look like food or fruit.
  • It’s a busy time of year, but try to stick to your loved one’s normal routine as much as possible. Remember to build time into the day for rest and breaks from the excitement.
  • Ask for help. Can a friend or family member help with shopping or stay with your loved one so you can get to the store? Or consider respite care or adult day care if it’s available in your community.
  • Adapt gift giving. Some gifts aren’t suitable for people with dementia; some are downright dangerous. Let friends and relatives know what kinds of gifts would be appreciated for the person with dementia, such as an album of family photos, a collection of favorite music or a movie they’ve always loved. Comfortable clothing and an identification bracelet are also good ideas.
  • Don’t forget your own wish list: Ask for volunteers to help you from time to time in caregiving, making meals or doing chores. People want to help, but they might not know how, or they might be embarrassed to offer.
  • A holiday is still a holiday, even if the celebration is held in a care facility. If your loved one lives in a care facility, consider joining in the facility’s group celebration, bring a favorite food to share, organize a sing-along or read a favorite story, poem or spiritual text aloud.