Enjoying the holiday season with a family member who has Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes be a little challenging, but when everyone involved maintains awareness and appropriate expectations, it can still be very rewarding for the entire family. By following some of the suggestions described below, there is no reason why the holiday season shouldn’t be totally enjoyable for all family and friends.
The degree to which each of these recommendations is adopted should depend on the stage of Alzheimer’s which your family member is presently undergoing. An early stage for instance, would require lighter adherence to these ideas than if the family member were in an advanced stage, where more stringent observance of these suggestions would be advisable.
Keep friends and visitors informed
If you’re having friends or other visitors for the holidays at your home, it will be worthwhile to let them know in advance via an email or a phone call, that you will have an Alzheimer’s patient at home also. Alert them to the fact that your afflicted family member may have difficulty with cognitive abilities, expression of thought, and will perhaps exhibit symptoms of short-term memory loss.
Your loved one may not recognize people who are well known to him/her, and may repeat sentences several times as if being said for the first time. Sundowning is another common behavior which is an Alzheimer’s hallmark, wherein the person becomes agitated as the sun does down for the day, and the onset of darkness begins. Visitors should be made alerted to expect these and other behaviors which your family member may be exhibiting.
It will be a good idea to make everyone who will be visiting your home during the holidays aware that you will be involved in care-giving for your Alzheimer’s family member, and that they should expect you to have limited availability due to this responsibility. It’s best to be completely candid with everyone, and make them aware of observed behaviors from your afflicted family member, and how that will impact you as caregiver.
Assuming you are the primary person involved with providing care, it would be prudent to scale back your holiday activities, especially in light of the fact that there will be a considerable drain on your time. This may involve inviting fewer guests, making meal preparations simpler, and encouraging others to participate in coordinating holiday activities.
Involve your Alzheimer’s family member
To make the holiday meaningful for your Alzheimer’s family member, try to focus on seasonal activities which have been particularly significant to the person in the past. For instance, singing familiar songs or observing long time family traditions are good ways to keep them involved. If the family member is capable, ask them to participate in food preparation, gift wrapping, decorating the home, or table setting – anything to make them feel part of the seasonal celebration.
Be careful with gift giving
You should be very careful with gifts given to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, because many of these can have little or no value to a person in this condition, and in some cases can even be downright dangerous. You should stick to gifts which are useful to a person in this condition, such as a Medic Alert tag, or other entirely safe gifts like clothing, and things having special significance like photos or favorite music.
Visiting your Alzheimer’s family member
If your Alzheimer’s family member does not live at home, but is instead cared for at some kind of medical facility, many of the above considerations are less necessary, but you should still be aware of ways to make the season meaningful for them. One good way to do this would be to accompany your loved one at a facility-planned celebration or holiday activity, where you can enjoy the time together.
Reminding your loved one of significant people and events through photo reminiscing or holiday songs can also be very rewarding for both of you. If there is a special holiday dish that your family member enjoys, and there are no regulations excluding it at the facility, bring something like this to celebrate the season. The main idea is to find ways to show your loved one you are thinking about them and caring about them at this special time of the year.