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Holiday Caregiver Challenges? Plan Ahead!

No, the holidays aren’t here yet. But they will be before you know it. So, if you are caring for a loved one with dementia, the time to plan is now!

The holidays bring with them special challenges for caregivers of loved ones who have dementia. If you’ve already been through a holiday season or two, you may have created a mental list of all the things you are not going to attempt this year. That’s understandable as the inclination for caregivers is often to go into hibernation mode when the holidays roll around. But this doesn’t have to be the case. There is still time to plan for the holidays, and there are things you can do to bring more of the joy back into the season. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get a schedule together. Whether it’s for your own get together or a trip to meet friends and family, the sooner you finalize your plans, the better. This is primarily for your own benefit, as once you have dates together, you can prepare yourself, and your loved one, in advance.
  • Update friends and family. This is especially important for visiting relatives and family friends who may not have seen your loved one for a while. Make it a point to call and share your loved one’s condition with them. They will feel more at ease when visiting time comes around and better understand if you need to change the time or cancel a gathering.
  • Take some time off. This can take the form of having a family member or close friend come in to help with your loved one, while you take time to tend to your own needs. You should also check in with your local memory care community. Many have respite care; an arrangement in which your loved one can spend a week or more in the memory care community, allowing you time to prepare for the holidays.
  • Ease your loved one into the holiday mood. Instead of putting all mom’s decorations up at once or opting out altogether, try bringing out one or two festive decorations at a time. Instead of saying, “Mom, you remember this, right?”, try making it a gentle, non-confrontational statement, such as “Mom, I remember how you loved this decoration.” Doing this slowly will make it physically less taxing as well as more enjoyable for both of you.
  • Prepare your loved one for each gathering. How far in advance you do this really depends on their level of cognition. For those with mild Alzheimer’s disease, you might begin discussing an upcoming event a week or more in advance, updating them on who’s who in the family (especially if there are grand children or new relationships in the family). If you are caring for a loved one in the moderate stages of dementia, however, it may be best to prepare them shortly before the visits. Look for signs of anxiety and keep your explanation short and simple.

Above all, do your best to be flexible. There may be occasions when the hubbub of family gatherings becomes overwhelming for your loved one. Prepare yourself in advance for the potential of shortened visits or needing to cancel altogether. If you’ve updating your friends and family in advance, this will be much easier.

Caring for a loved one doesn’t mean that you have to wall yourself and your loved one away from holiday festivities. With proper planning, help from friends and family, and preparing yourself as well as your loved one before each gathering, you and your family can still find many moments of joy in the holidays.