The holidays can be a stressful time, especially for families of a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When a family member has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the family dynamic changes dramatically. Nowhere is this more evident than at holiday gatherings.
Here are a few tips for families and caregivers:
Prepare your family and friends. Share your loved one’s diagnosis with those who will be attending the holiday gathering. Explain the limitations he or she may have. Educate your guests on how to communicate with your loved one, and include him or her in the conversation as much as possible. Speak slowly so your loved one will understand the conversation and allow enough time for their response. Remember, those with Alzheimer’s may struggle with vocabulary or have trouble following or joining a conversation. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, memory loss is mild. But with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation.
Prepare your loved one with Alzheimer’s for the gathering. Make sure that he or she has had enough rest. Keep to your regular routine as much as possible during the days leading up to your holiday gathering.
Ask your family and friends for help. Ask family members for help with shopping and cooking in advance. This can be a lifesaver in a household with a loved one challenged by dementia or Alzheimer’s. Ask a relative who is close to your loved one to help by keeping an eye on his or her anxiety levels as the day progresses. They can be a big help when you are busy with other guests.
Schedule dinner early in the day. Individuals with Alzheimer’s are particularly sensitive to the hours between daylight and evening. This is called Sundown Syndrome. Sundowning is highly prevalent among individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Encourage your loved one to reminisce about the past. If your loved one still has longer-term memory intact, consider bringing out old photo albums to inspire conversation. This can be a great way for family members to engage with your loved one.
Prepare for some downtime. A short nap or some quiet time in a separate room provides a nice break for someone with Alzheimer’s. Ideally, a room where he or she can relax away from all the activity. Often, a short nap is all that is needed to enable them to rejoin the festivities.
Give yourself time to relax. If you are the primary caregiver, consider scheduling a massage, go to a movie or have lunch with a friend to unwind before your holiday gathering. That will give you time to tend to your own emotional health so you can enjoy the holidays with your family and friends.
Life with Alzheimer’s disease has its ups and downs. But it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. It is possible for both patients with Alzheimer’s and their families to enjoy the holidays.