THE HOLIDAYS AND A LOVED ONE WITH ALZHEIMERíS by Richard Chace
11/24/2015 at 16:55
The holidays are a time when family and friends often come together. But for families living with Alzheimerís and other types of dementia, the holidays can be a little extra challenging. Just remember, your loved ones may be frustrated by their limitations too, so manage your expectations and consider incorporating some of these tips from the Alzheimerís Association to have a happy and loving holiday gathering this year.
Familiarize others with the situation Letís be honest, very few families experience the carefree but elegant gathering depicted by Norman Rockwell or Martha Stewart. Families are full of complicated dynamics, emotional trigger points and multiple generations with a wide range of cultural references. If someone in your family is in the early stages of Alzheimerís or dementia, relatives and friends who do not see that person regularly may not even realize there is even a problem. That doesnít mean there might not be one. In the early stages of memory diseases, the person affected may have difficulty following a conversation and use techniques such as repeating himself or pausing mid-sentence to gather their thoughts. Try not to interrupt or correct the individual when that happens, he might just need a little extra time to gather his thoughts. An individual in mid or late stages of the disease may have significant changes in his cognitive abilities that would most likely be noticeable to everyone.
Family and friends can help the loved one by not taking things too personally as well as being patient and remembering that the disease causes these changes in behavior and memory. If you are the primary caregiver or the person closest to the individual with Alzheimerís politely inform or remind relatives or guests about the current status of the affected loved one. Consider sending an email or calling your guests before the holiday gathering to explain how they might be able to help and to manage their expectations.
Try to involve the person with dementia or Alzheimerís If you will be surrounded by family and close friends for your holiday celebrations, take advantage of the shared history to build on past traditions and memories that are familiar to your ailing loved one. Try looking through old photo albums to spark memories or singing family favorite songs of the holiday. Depending on the individualís physical and mental capabilities, consider inviting them to help prepare the meal, set the table, decorate or set the table but do be aware that blinking lights may confuse or scare a person with cognitive or memory disorders. As much as possible, try to maintain a normal routine and plan for plenty of time for breaks and rest to help reduce the strain on the ailing individual.
If your loved one lives in a care facility You can still celebrate the holidays together, just check with the care facility to find out if they have any planned holidays activities that you may join in or if you can donate any food or decorations to share during the festivities. Or, if you prefer to spend more personal time with your loved one, consider scheduling your visit during some downtime at the facility. If your loved one enjoys participating in group activities, you may want to consider visiting when there are no activities scheduled so your loved one wonít miss an event and his or her attention wonít be divided during your time together.
Help the caregiver Being the primary caregiver can take its toll and when you add in the additional stress of holiday gatherings and traditions, it can quickly become overwhelming. Try to remember the holidays arenít just about enjoying a festive meal and exchanging gifts, they are also to spend time with your loved ones. Even close family members may not realize how much responsibility is involved in caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimerís, so ask for help if you are the caregiver. Familiarize your family and close friends about the needs and challenges of the current caregiving situation as well as the limitations for both your affected loved one as well as yourself.
If the primary caregiver had also traditionally been the one to host the holiday gatherings, talk to them about how you could be most helpful this year. Perhaps it would be best to continue to hold the festivities in their house but other family members could provide the preparations, food and clean up. Ask the caregiver what would work best for them, such as having smaller gatherings to help prevent the loved with Alzheimerís and yourself from getting overtired. Also, if sun downing (evening confusion) is a problem, consider holding your holiday gathering earlier in the day. For some additional tips, please click on the link to download a PDF of the Alzheimerís Associationís guide 10 Ways To Be a Healthier Caregiver.
If the time has come when your aging loved one is no longer able to live independently, please contact the knowledgeable staff at California Registry to help you find elder care services or an assisted living facility within California that is customized for your family.