For families living with dementia, the holidays can be challenging and bittersweet. Festivities can agitate, confuse, and overstimulate people with the disease. Caregivers can also be overwhelmed by trying to maintain holiday traditions while providing care. Holiday gatherings and family get-togethers can become stressful and uncomfortable. But with some planning and adjusted expectations, as well as tips from the Alzheimer’s Association, your celebrations can still be happy and cherished occasions.
Caregiver Tips: Caregivers often battle feelings of stress, guilt and anger and the holidays can add to that stress. There are things caregivers can do to battle this. Make sure family members understand your situation and set realistic expectations for what the holidays will look like. Be sure you’re not overstretching yourself and don’t be afraid to scale back on shopping and gift giving. Family and friends will understand. Decide which traditions are most important and which you can do without.
Alerting family and friends: Let guests know ahead of time about a loved one’s changes, both in behavior and appearance. Preparing families and friends with an honest appraisal of the person’s condition can help avoid uncomfortable situations. If a loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, relatives and friends might not notice major changes, though the person with dementia may have trouble following conversation or repeating themselves. 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 visitor came over. It may be best to call or even send an email to folks who may not have visited since last year.
Caring for the caregiver: If you’re the one traveling this holiday season think about how you can help the primary caregiver while you’re visiting. Ask how they’re doing and give them time to discuss their feelings or concerns. Consider visiting with the person living with dementia so the caregiver can run errands, or offer to run errands for them. Help with chores around the house, or give gifts that the caregiver would benefit from.
Modifying celebrations: Plan ahead by having open and honest conversations with the whole family weeks before the event, consider having smaller gatherings and meet earlier to help avoid confusion with the person living with dementia. Things that may help for day-of celebrations include making name tags for everyone, giving the person with the disease a quiet room, turning off the TV and music, and making sure they don’t get agitated or overstimulated. Simplify decorating, as well. It can cause stress for you and your loved one. Give yourself permission to change tradition if that means less stress for you.
If a loved one is in a hospital/facility: Ask the facility if you can bring decorations and check visitation protocols. Consider bringing their favorite ornaments and discuss the memories associated with them. Play their favorite music, listen to holiday sing along songs, watch a favorite holiday movie, or bring their favorite holiday treat. When sharing photos use phrases such as ‘we used to’ and not ‘do you remember?’.
COVID-19 considerations: Have open, transparent conversations about vaccines, what you’re comfortable with, and make sure everyone is on the same page for plans and activities. Adjust to make people comfortable. Be proactive and talk to family and friends well before the event.
For more holiday tips or questions and concerns regarding memory or behavioral issues, please call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 or visit the local website at alz.org.