Families who are affected by Alzheimer’s know all too well how the disease seeps into every aspect of life. The holidays are no exception to this rule. A time that is usually full of fun and festive joy may be stressful or even a bit sad. Family members may look back on the past holiday seasons they spent together and feel a sense of loss. Caregivers are often given more responsibility to accommodate visitors and activities.
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, so people need to know that they can still enjoy the holidays by following these tips.
1. Plan Ahead
Many people affected by Alzheimer’s disease will have certain times during the day where they are in the best frame of mind to interact with others. Plan any visits or gatherings around that time and try not to disrupt their usual schedule. Routine is important when living with dementia.
If there are things you want to get out and do, or parties you want to have, but necessary plans in place. Alzheimer’s can be unpredictable, but if you are a caregiver, you know better than anyone what to expect from your loved one.
2. Communicate Effectively
If you’re having a family gathering, keep attendees updated on their loved one’s state of mind and behavior. This can help manage their expectations before they come to visit. The family member living with Alzheimer’s disease may have also changed in appearance since the last visit, so sharing recent photos might also be a good idea.
Give family and friends tips on how to communicate most effectively. Encourage them to be patient as they listen and resist the urge to interrupt or correct things. Advise them not to get frustrated or comment on any repeated questions or stories from the family member with Alzheimer’s.
3. Be Flexible
Remember what we just said about planning? Do it, but don’t be surprised if plans have to be altered. Be flexible enough to not let a change in plans derail your whole day. Living with Alzheimer’s can be unpredictable.
4. Focus on Meaningful Activities
Because you might get to do all the things you want, make sure you prioritize what’s most important. Try to stick to simple things that bring joy like decorating cookies, reading a favorite book aloud, or watching an old Christmas movie.
5. Keep Gatherings Small
Big crowds, even if they’re full of faces that were once familiar, can be overwhelming to someone living with Alzheimer’s. Keep holiday gatherings small and intimate so everyone is comfortable and relaxed.
6. Celebrate in a Familiar Setting
Changes in the environment can cause distress and confusion for people with dementia. If the individual lives in a care facility, then ask if you can use a room there for a small family celebration. The facility might also have activities planned for residents that you can participate in.
If the individual lives in your home, then choose the space there that is most familiar and comfortable for them to be in for any holiday gatherings. It’s also a good idea to have a quiet space where the family member with Alzheimer’s disease can go to be alone or have one-on-one visits.
Playing familiar holiday music may also help put individuals with Alzheimer’s at ease and create a festive, yet calm, environment. Just make sure it’s not too loud and startling.
7. Don’t Go Crazy with Decorations
Everyone loves the festive cheer of a decorated house or care facility. However, big displays that require rearranging things can confuse people with dementia who may not recognize a once-familiar setting when it’s altered. Blinking lights and cluttered surfaces may also confuse and should be avoided.
8. Keep Visits and Outings Brief
If you have visitors, have them come in on different days and make sure they keep their visits on the short side. Similarly, if you plan on going somewhere for a holiday celebration, make it brief. Be prepared to leave early if needed.
9. Don’t Schedule Too Much
Make sure you and your loved ones get downtime to rest and recharge. Dealing with Alzheimer’s during the holidays can be trying for everyone, so it’s important not to commit to more than you can handle. After all, the holidays should bring some joy to everyone involved.
Make an Appointment at Regional Neurological Associates
The physicians at Regional Neurological Associates are all board-certified neurologists with experience in treating a variety of disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. If you have questions or concerns about neurological health, including living with dementia during the holidays, call (718) 515-4347 to make an appointment.