The holidays are upon us. For many people, this is the happiest time of the year. Families and friends gather, eat great (and lots of) food, celebrate traditions, and catch up on the annual news. But for those suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia, this can actually be a very stressful time. If you or someone you know is going to be around someone suffering from dementia this holiday, consider the following tips to ensure it’s enjoyable for everyone:
- Keep perspective on what’s really important. The objective is to keep your loved one safe and happy, and to minimize outbursts that can add to an already stressful time of year. If you’re the host or hostess, you must remember that it’s not about “your party”, but about setting the right environment where future memories are created.
- Limit change to their normal routine. If your loved one is accustomed to a set schedule, (i.e., when they get up, mealtimes, taking a nap, etc.), let them stick to it as much as possible. Change to routine can very difficult for dementia victims. Allow for “down time”, and be cognizant of “sun-downing” which can happen late in the afternoon when there is an increased likelihood of agitation.
- Keep your loved one in an environment where they feel safe. As fun as it may seem to everyone else to “take grandma shopping”, to people suffering from dementia, unfamiliar external input is amplified. New surroundings filled with crowds can seem very dangerous and can create considerable stress. Keeping them at home during the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping might be the best thing to do. If your loved one lives in an assisted living facility, you may even find it better to visit them there, rather than bring them to your home.
- Let them take part in a few of their favorite traditions. If grandma used to bake or cook, let her take part in helping with stirring, rolling out the dough, or decorating the cookies. If grandpa used to be in charge of holiday cards, let him help you organize them or file them in a photo album. Due to attention span and cognitive issues, people suffering from later stages of Alzheimer’s/dementia might be happier taking part with the holiday activities of the younger kids. Holiday movies, making cookies, coloring and children’s crafts give them an opportunity to share in holiday activities without feeling overwhelmed.
- Limit the number of presents, and think “simple”. Your loved one is not going to be impressed by how much you spend or how many presents you give them. Consider the “age” they are at – not biological, but cognitive – and select gifts accordingly.
- Watch what your loved one eats and drinks. Holiday treats are especially tempting to Alzheimer’s/dementia victims. Realize that they may not be able to limit themselves by good judgment, so watch where you put the sweets and treats! Also, be sure they stay hydrated during this time. It’s important to keep them feeling healthy, and for any/all medications to work properly.
- Visiting friends and relatives need a “heads up” about the condition of your loved one. Visitors might not be aware of how to act/react around people with Alzheimer’s. A quick brief on what to expect and say/not say can reduce stress. If you are a visitor yourself, be sure to understand the condition of the dementia victim, and be thoughtful about your behavior and what you say.
- Surround your loved one with music. Music is a part of the holiday tradition that can elevate their mood. If your family has a tradition of caroling, include them in it. Even many suffering from Alzheimer’s can easily recall songs they have known for years!
- Take pictures and videos. Years from now, you and your family will look back upon this holiday season with warm thoughts about your loved on, and happy times you shared together.
Holiday time with Alzheimer’s/dementia victims does not need to be stressful. In fact, some of the moments can be very special as people take time to listen and pay special attention to your loved one. Savor those moments, and know that as long as you show patience and love, you and your loved one will enjoy this holiday as much as ever!