Holidays are a time for family togetherness and memories, but they also can be a time filled with stress & sadness for families living with dementia.
A person in the early stage of a dementia-related disease may experience a more intense sense of loss during the holidays because of the changes he or she is experiencing and the implications for the future.
As the disease progresses, the physical changes at home, the shifts in usual routines and the increased activity and noises at this time of year can be discombobulating.
That may lead to unusual behaviors or emotions – and struggles for the caregivers.
Caregivers may feel overwhelmed by changing responsibilities and roles while trying to maintain holiday traditions.
Caregivers may fear inviting others to share holiday time for fear of making anyone uncomfortable with behavior changes in the person with dementia.
There are no rules here. The family dealing with dementia in their lives needs to take care of themselves and each other. That means different things for different people.
On the right are some tips from the Alzheimer’s Association for making holidays easier.
Hosting Holiday Events
– Adjust expectations.
Do what is reasonably manageable; let go of the added pressure.
– Consider the time of day that works best. A person with dementia may feel better and have less confusion earlier in the day. If so, maybe a holiday celebration over a lunch or brunch would work.
Ask family/friends to bring dishes for a potluck meal.
– Set a time frame so people don’t stay longer than the person with dementia is able to handle.
– Or ask family/friends to host the meal at their home – leaving is always an option if the gathering becomes too loud or confusing for the person with dementia.
Ways Someone With Dementia Can Participate in the Season
– Involve the person with dementia in safe, manageable activities like wrapping packages or setting the napkins on the table. Remember, this is not about the way things look, it is about maintaining engagement and self-esteem.
(See more information about helping a loved one with dementia stay active at alz.org.)
– Focus on holiday activities that are meaningful, such as singing holiday songs, eating favorite foods or reminiscing. This may be more rewarding than attending a social event that can overwhelm the person.
– Ask a clergy member if he/she would hold a brief service at a quiet time at your place of worship or at your home.
– Maintain a normal routine so holiday happenings don’t become disruptive or confusing to him/her.
– Plan time for rest in a quiet area away from noise and crowds.
Attending Holiday Events
– Prepare the host for special needs such as a quiet room for the person to rest, easy to handle finger foods and lower music levels. Discuss potential behaviors the person may exhibit and how to address them.
– Plan time for breaks so the person can have that quiet rest.
– Consider a tag-team team approach. Ask someone at the party to be with the person with dementia. This individual can help cue the person as to who people are, provide assistance with eating and other activities, and support the person so he or she feels engaged during the event.
– Have an extra set of clothes ready.
– Let go of the guilt and if necessary and feasible, arrange for respite services if the person is not able to participate in holiday events. Caregivers need to enjoy this time as well.
Adapt Gift Giving
Encourage people to think practically and outside the box such as:
– Clothing that is easy to put on and remove.
– A fidget blanket.
– A pictorial book of a favorite vacation spot.
– Homemade coupons offering to take the person with dementia to lunch or spend some time while the caregiver takes a break or runs an errand
– An identification bracelet (go to www.alz.org/care/dementia-medic-alert-safe-return.asp for more information).
Bari Lewis is director for community outreach at the Alzheimer’s Assn.
To learn more about this topic, join the Alzheimer’s Association for a program on Creating Positive Holiday Experiences, scheduled for the Beaumont Public Library, 3080 Fieldstone Way on Nov. 15, 2-3:30 p.m. Registration is required.
Info: (800) 272-3900 or alz.org/crf.