The holidays are a time when family and friends often come together. But for families living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, the holidays can be challenging. The Alzheimer’s Association has some helpful tips on managing situations that may arise during the holidays if your loved one has Alzheimer’s.
Take a deep breath
With some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can still be happy, memorable occasions.
with the situation
The holidays are full of emotions, so it can help to let guests know what to expect before they arrive. 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.
Adapt gift giving
Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person with dementia. Diminishing capacity may make some gifts 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, comfortable clothing, favorite foods and photo albums.
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.
Involve the person with dementia
Build 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, watching favorite holiday movies, or looking through old photo albums.
Involve the person in holiday preparation. 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. Plan time for breaks and rest.
For more info and resources, reach out to the Heart of American Alzheimer’s Association, Northwest Missouri Regional Office.