Holidays are overwhelming even for folks who don’t have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. For those who have cognitive loss the Holidays can be confusing and anxiety provoking. This article provides some helpful suggestions for making the holidays enjoyable for everyone.
By Jennifer Scott
Planning will help make the holidays go smoother for everyone:
Smaller family gatherings are better – too many “faces” can really overwhelm a person with Dementia. Tone down decorations – flashing lights and large displays can cause disorientation and hallucinations. Keep the persons daily routines in place as much as possible. Make simple homemade gifts for others, this is a great activity to do with the person. Homemade holiday cards, cookies, painting small planters, etc. are easy gifts and the activity of making them provides an appropriate activity for the person.
Should you travel with the person? Things to consider:
Changes in routine can cause great anxiety for the person with Dementia. Long car rides can be difficult, especially if restroom assistance is needed. Airport traffic – if you have to fly, purchase non-stop flights, travel at night the airports are less crowded and sleeping on the plane is more common at this time, be sure to ask for help if needed (especially if there is no “caregiver restroom” available). Trust your instincts – you know what is most likely to upset your loved one; don’t get pressured into celebrating the way others want you to. It’s ok to say “no” or “maybe next year”.
If the person lives in a care community should you take them home for the Holiday?
Changes in routine, even a visit home, can cause anxiety and fearfulness for the person who has Dementia. It may be better to have a small celebration at the community where the person lives. (It is important to consider “whose need it is for the person to attend a holiday celebration at the family’s house? Is it yours? If the person can leave the community and return and have no recall of the visit, then where the visit takes place is not the most important issue. The visit is the important thing, not where it occurs.)
If you do take them home for the day; keep the visit short – maybe just for the dessert portion of the meal, have a buddy system -assign another family member or guest as “the buddy” to make sure the person with Dementia is doing well. A “buddy” can reassure the person, occupy the person, take the person for a walk if they become anxious or upset, and most of all a Buddy can make sure the person does not “wander” away from the activities. Don’t be afraid to cut the visit short – have an escape plan.
Gifts – What are appropriate gifts?
Simple items are the best such as clothing items that are Easy on/off items, toiletries such as toothbrushes, soaps, sponges, and so forth. Pictures - old family pictures, landscapes, cars, trucks, and trains, can bring long moments of enjoyment for the person. Holiday cards or letters – a person with Dementia will enjoy cards and letters from family over and over again.
Care for yourself as a caregiver:
Pick and choose which Holidays are most important to you? Remember you can’t do it all and you don’t have to do it all. Simplify the holidays – Bake less, buy less, and don’t feel pressure to do it all. Ask others to bring portions of the meal. Delegate – Let others help you, assign cleaning tasks, let others shop for your gifts and address cards. Take a break – ask for someone to watch your loved one while you go shopping or to a holiday party.
Happy Holidays to everyone.
If you are a caregiver remember to breathe through the tough moments, rest every chance you can, and ask for help when needed.
Jennifer Scott has been in healthcare since 1984, working with a variety of people with disabilities. She has delivered numerous speaking and educational presentations about Alzheimer’s disease and how to care for those suffering with dementia. Jennifer provides consultant services, through JAS Senior Care Consultants, to families and facilities. Jennifer can be reached at 512-636-6433 or jscott5654 at yahoo dot com
Jennifer can be reached at 512-636-6433 or jscott5654 at yahoo dot com