Celebrations with family and friends are always at the center of the holiday season. Gift exchanges, dinners, open houses, and casual drop-ins from neighbors; all form a big part of what we love about this time of the year.
For a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease, however, these once joyous gatherings can cause immense stress and anxiety. Disruptions to their normal schedules along with the highly charged atmosphere created by these visits can be disorienting. They may also feel marginalized as they are kept “out of the way” in efforts to insulate them from the hustle and bustle. Worse yet, they may be ignored altogether by family members and friends who feel awkward approaching them and attempting to interact.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The Mayo Clinic and the Alzheimer’s Association have published a wealth of information and tips to help family caregivers include their loved ones with dementia in the festivities in ways that do not overwhelm them and cause unnecessary anxiety.
Here are some of their tips to help make your holiday gatherings more enjoyable for everyone:
- Adjust your expectations. Perhaps you always baked the pies or cooked the mashed potatoes for past holiday dinners. This may be a time to break with that tradition and let others contribute. Likewise, it’s time to adjust your expectations of your loved one with dementia. They may not be able ot handle the noise and confusion of holiday visits. By adjusting your expectations, you will be creating a new holiday atmosphere that will be less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.
- Alert family members and friends in advance. This is so important. You can arrange for a group call or video session to give them insights as to your loved one’s condition and how to interact with them. You can use this time to introduce changes you’ve made to accommodate your loved one’s schedule and keep them comfortable. Knowing this in advance will make everyone more relaxed when they arrive and better able to engage with your loved one.
- Include your loved one in the festivities. They might help you with the preparations by mixing cookie dough, decorating, and setting the table. By making a meaningful contribution to the festivities, something they undoubtedly did in past years, your loved one will feel more valued and connected to everyone around them. And you’ll feel great including them!
- Provide a quiet space for them during the festivities. Consider carving out a quiet area of the main room or a chair in a nearby room. While your loved one may enjoy sitting inside the family circle for a short time, they may need a place they can go to relax, take a short nap or just take a break from the noise.
- Shorten the length of gatherings. You can explain any schedule changes in your call with relatives. If your gatherings typically last all afternoon and well into the evening, consider limiting them to a few hours. If your loved one is more alert in the earlier part of the day, adjust your schedule accordingly.
Remember that this is also about your own comfort level as caregiver. How do you feel about the arrangements? What do you need to adjust to make it easier? Trust your instincts. If you feel the need to make a last-minute change, don’t hesitate to do so.
With proper planning, advance communications and adjusted expectations, this holiday season can, in new ways, be just as special and full of joy as those in the past.
(Our delightful header image shows a Willowbrook Place Memory Care resident standing in front of their beautiful tree, decorated by residents and staff!)