Coping with the Holidays for Families and Caregivers of Those with Dementia
While we’d like to believe that the holidays are joyous for all, they can also be quite stressful if you are caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. With a goal of making the holidays as enjoyable as possible for everyone, there are ways to reduce stress for both the loved one and caregiver.
Those with dementia generally manage better with a routine. Since the holidays can make havoc of a daily routine, it is best to attend activities that fit into your normal routine if possible. Discussing a schedule with family members ahead of time will help make it easier for everyone to manage.
Prepare Your Loved One
As much as you can, prepare your loved one for the days ahead. You can write up a schedule, include holiday treats and activities as part of their routine and have relatives and friends come to their home for a visit instead of going out. By disrupting your loved one’s day as little as possible, they will be better able to enjoy celebrations.
For those able to travel to parties and events, prepare them as well as you can ahead of time by telling them who will be there and what will be happening. You can also create a short list of notes for them to refer to at the event. Getting your loved one excited about new outfits or decorations, having them participate in holiday cooking or gift giving and offering them crafts or games that they can accomplish before or during your gathering will allow them feel a part of the celebration.
Coping with Stress
It is possible that your loved one will have difficulty in a large group setting, especially if it is noisy and crowded. Be prepared to leave early or take a breather with them to help frequently throughout the day. It is also helpful to check with your relative often for any assistance needed and to see if they are getting too tired to have fun. Caregivers know their loved one’s triggers and behavior best and when to allow for some breathing space.
To help with stress, try to take activity separately one at a time, offer a short-term period to manage. For example, instead of having a large group opening presents, watching television and eating all at the same time, break each of those activities down separately to help your loved one focus. Cutting down on distractions makes it easier for them to participate in a positive way, even if it is just following along with your conversation. The more you remove triggers and create a controlled environment, the better your entire family will enjoy and remember this year’s celebration.
Remembering the Joy
Part of having a family member that has dementia is not knowing how long you will have with them. When special moments arrive during the holiday celebrations, have your camera ready to take photographs or videos. These images may also help your loved one remember the time spent with you when back in their own home. You can print out a few of the best images, and then create a memory board for them to view. Add cards and images of the people at the party with identification notes such as “Sarah – Jeb’s daughter – your granddaughter” to assist with short-term memory issues.