For many families, the holidays are filled with opportunities for togetherness, sharing, laughter and memories. However, these same holidays can also be filled with stress, disappointment and sadness for others.
"A person with Alzheimer's may feel a special sense of loss during the holidays because of the changes that he or she has experienced," explained Psychiatrist Pamela Drake, M.D. "At the same time, caregivers may feel overwhelmed trying to maintain holiday traditions while caring for family members with dementia. In addition, they may feel hesitant to invite family and friends over to share in holiday celebrations, for fear that others will be uncomfortable with the behavioral changes they may see in their loved one."
Here are some suggestions that may help to make the holidays happy and memorable occasions if you are living with someone, who has Alzheimer's.
Involve the Person with Dementia
"If possible, involve the person in safe, manageable holiday preparation activities," Dr. Drake added. "Begin slowly by asking the individual to help prepare food, wrap packages, hand you decorations or set the table. Try to avoid using candies, artificial fruits and vegetables or other edible items as decorations, because they can be confusing. In addition, blinking lights may be perceived as frightening.
"Consider celebrating over a lunch rather than an evening meal, to work around the evening confusion or sundowning that sometimes affects people with Alzheimer's.
If you can, maintain the person's normal routine so that holiday preparations don't become disruptive or confusing. Build on past traditions and memories. For example, your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs."
Adapt Gift Giving
Encourage people to buy useful gifts for the person such as an identification bracelet; comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing; tapes of favorite music; videos; or photo albums.
"Advise people not to give gifts such as tools, utensils, challenging board games, or complicated electronic equipment," Dr. Drake advised. "Depending on the person's abilities, try to involve him or her in giving gifts. For example, someone who once enjoyed cooking may enjoy baking cookies and packing them in tins or boxes. Or, you may want to buy the gift and allow the person to wrap it."
If friends or family members ask what you want for a gift, suggest a gift certificate or something that will help you out as you care for your loved one, like a cleaning orhousehold chore service.
Help Temper Holiday Stress
- Have a face-to-face meeting or call family members and friends so that everyone understands your caregiving situation. Set realistic expectations about what you can and can't do. Consider passing on hosting the party and enjoy the hospitality of friends or family.
- Avoid over-stimulation and over-tiring by eating earlier in the day, and steer clear of long travel.
- Use the buddy system and assign someone familiar to the individual with dementia to shield them from distress and give a break to the primary caregiver.
Try to be Flexible
"Prepare for post-holiday letdown," Dr. Drake concluded. "Arrange for in-home care so you can enjoy a movie or lunch with a friend and reduce post-holiday stress.
"Holidays are opportunities to share time with the people you love. Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself and the person with Alzheimer's disease, so that you may concentrate on enjoying your time together."
Warning Signs of Alzheimer's
If you are spending time with a loved one over the holidays and notice changes in behavior, look for the ten warning signs of Alzheimer's disease.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Typical age-related change- Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Typical age-related change- Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. Typical age-related change- Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
4. Confusion with time or place. Typical age-related change-Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Typical age-related change- Vision changes related to cataracts.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. Typical age-related change- Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Typical age-related change- Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.
8. Decreased or poor judgment. Typical age-related change-Making a bad decision once in a while.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. Typical age-related change- Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
10. Changes in mood and personality. Typical age-related change- Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
Pamela Drake, M.D., is a board certified adult psychiatrist, affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's medical staff. Her practice is located at 12680 Salem-Warren Road in Salem, 330-337-0088.