Helpful Hints for Caregivers During Holiday Gatherings

Here it is, the “most wonderful time of the year”.  For dementia caregivers, it can also be the most STRESSFUL time of the year.  How can caregivers uphold family traditions – big family dinners, holiday parties, caroling with the choir – and keep from upending the routine of their loved one with dementia?  Well, a few tweaks are in order…

  • Consider moving the family gatherings to someone else’s home and have a mini-gathering at your home/your loved one’s home (if they are in a memory care residence).  Ask family and friends to schedule a 15 to 30 minute visit with your loved one and then, move on to the main event.  A short, meaningful visit is better than a longer, more drawn out visit with a person with middle-late stage dementia.

In my family, my mother would set up an area in my grandmother’s room where she could enjoy her comfy chair. Then, just a few people at a time stop would be invited to stop in and visit with her.  The noise of a large household full of people can be very exhausting.  I thought that was a lovely way to include my Mimi in the festivities without overwhelming her.  Don’t feel compelled to include your loved one in every event.  Routine is so important in caring for someone with memory impairment.  It is a gift to them to allow them to stay in their routine.  Though they might fare well during the event, they are likely to have a couple of tough days that follow as a result of being over-tired and over-stimulated.

  • Try out new traditions that are easy on the person with dementia. For example, try taking an evening drive to see the holiday lights. During sundowning hours, which typically begin anywhere between 3:30 p.m. and nightfall, a drive may be a welcome distraction. It will help them meet the urge to “go somewhere” and can also be an enjoyable way to unwind and enjoy some of the holiday festivities before bedtime.

The best advice for helping your loved one navigate the holidays is to take your cues from them.  When your loved one is agitated, starting to wander, getting fidgety…it’s time to decompress, move away from crowds and back into quiet familiarity.

During this holiday season friends and relatives may have questions about the disease: “How will this progress?”, “Are these symptoms and behaviors normal?” , etc. Please keep in mind that the Alzheimer’s Association is just a phone call away 24/7 at 1-800-272-3900.  We are here to help you with your holiday planning and to help you manage the challenging conversations and situations that arise during this busy time.  Invite your loved ones to visit our website at www.alz.org.  It is chock full of useful tips and information and even an online support forum. The Alzheimer’s Association also has educational programming in your area that may help you become an even better caregiver.

If anyone asks you what they can do for YOU this Christmas – don’t be shy! Be honest! What would help you most as a caregiver? A home-cooked meal? A few hours of respite for you to rest or attend a class at the Alzheimer’s Association? Try to be prepared with an answer that will serve you and your loved one well – people usually really do want to be helpful but they don’t always know how.

We wish you all a very happy holiday and a bright, happy and safe new year!

For more tips, visit: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-holidays.asp

Chris Ryan via Getty Images
Chris Ryan via Getty Images
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