For those who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, the thought of holiday get-togethers with family and friends may leave you feeling exhausted, anxious, or just plain overwhelmed. And while it can be a challenging time of year, with some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can still be happy, memorable occasions.
According to data just released in the 2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, in Michigan, one in eight of those aged 45 and over report they are experiencing confusion or memory loss that is happening more often or is getting worse. For those with worsening memory problems, 45.5 percent say it created functional difficulties, such as causing them to give up day-to-day, work or social activities. With Alzheimer’s disease becoming more common, it is more likely that someone with Alzheimer’s disease will be in attendance at your holiday gathering and it is important to be prepared.
Here are our top tips for surviving the holiday season with loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia:
1. Let guests know what to expect before they arrive. Sending a letter or email in advance, letting people know about what to expect and how they can help will ease some of the burden when guests arrive. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts. In the middle or late stages, make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person. For ideas on how to let others know about changes in your loved one, join ALZConnected, our online support community, where caregivers share tips on what has worked for them.
2. Pare down your responsibilities. The stress of caregiving layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. If you’ve always invited 15 to 20 people to your home, consider paring it down to a few guests for a simple meal. Let others contribute. Have a potluck dinner or ask them to host at their home. You also may want to consider breaking large gatherings up into smaller visits of two or three people at a time to keep the person with Alzheimer’s and yourself from getting overtired. Make sure everyone understands your situation and has realistic expectations about what you can do.
3. Avoid triggers. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, consider changing a holiday dinner into a holiday lunch. If you do keep the celebration at night, keep the room well-lit. Make sure that you’re 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 also help keep the holidays from becoming disruptive or confusing. Plan time for breaks and rest.
4. Keep the person involved. Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. They may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums. As the person’s abilities allow, invite them 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.
5. Look for helpful gifts. 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, their favorite music, videos and photo albums.
6. Bring the celebration to a care facility. A holiday is still a holiday whether it is celebrated at home or at a care facility. If your loved one isn’t able to celebrate at home, consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities. Bring a favorite holiday food to share. Sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in, or read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud.
To learn more ways to make the holidays peaceful and joyous with a loved one with dementia, visit www.alz.org, or call our 24/7 helpline at 800.272.3900.
About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s research, care and support. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.