The holiday season is a time for visiting and reconnecting with family, friends, and neighbors. Sometimes this season can be sad or stressful for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD). These hints are our gift in wishing you an enjoyable holiday season.
- Holidays can be meaningful enriching times for both the person with ADRD and family. Maintaining (or adapting) old family rituals and traditions helps all family members feel a sense of belonging and family identity. For a person with ADRD, this link with a familiar past is reassuring and builds self-esteem (i.e., “Look at the beautiful family I created!”).
- Set your own limits early, and be clear about them with others. You do not have to live up to the expectations of friends or relatives. Your situation is different now.
- Encourage family and friends to visit EVEN IF IT IS PAINFUL FOR THEM. Keep the number of persons visiting at one time to a minimum, or try a few persons visiting quietly with the person with ADRD in a separate room. Most individuals with ADRD can pull it together for brief periods, if they have adequate private rest in between.
- Try some simple holiday preparations with the person with ADRD several days ahead. Just observing your preparations will familiarize them with the upcoming festivities; if they participate with you, they experience the pleasure of helping and giving as well as the fun of anticipation and reminiscence.
- Prepare potential quiet distractions (a family photo album or a simple repetitive chore like cracking nuts) to use if the person with ADRD becomes upset or over-stimulated.
- Try to avoid situations that further confuse or frustrate many persons with ADRD:
- Crowds of people who expect the person to remember them
- Noise, loud conversations, or loud music
- Strange or different surroundings
- Changes in light intensity: too bright or too dark
- Over-indulgence in rich or special food or drink (especially alcohol)
- Change in regular routine and sleep patterns
- Try scheduling activities, especially some outdoor exercise, early in the day to avoid the fatigue from added activity at the end of a long day. Familiar holiday music, storytelling, singing, or church services (even on TV) may be especially enjoyable.
- If you receive invitations to holiday celebrations which the person with ADRD cannot attend, GO YOURSELF. Enjoy the chance to be with friends and family who love you and enjoy your company, with or without your relative.
- Discuss holiday celebrations with relatives ahead of time. Make sure that family members understand the situation and have realistic expectations.
- Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. Consider asking others to bring dishes for a “potluck” or to host the meal at their home.
INVOLVE THE PERSON WITH ADRD
- Throughout all stages of preparation, involve the person with ADRD in safe, manageable activities.
- Maintain the person’s normal routine so that holiday preparations don’t become disruptive or confusing. Try to blend seasonal rituals into the daily activities you both depend upon, such as taking a walk.
- Build on past traditions and memories.
- Encourage useful gifts such as identification bracelets, comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing, recordings of favorite music, videos of family members, photo albums, or gift certificates for long-distance telephone service.
TRY TO BE FLEXIBLE
- Consider celebration over lunch or brunch instead of an evening meal, to work around “sundowning” or evening confusion that sometimes affects people with ADRD.
- Prepare to deal with post-holiday letdown. You may want to arrange for in-home respite care so you can enjoy a movie or lunch with a friend to reduce post-holiday stress.
- Remember that holidays are opportunities to share time with people you love. Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself and the person with ADRD so that you may concentrate on enjoying your time together.
SOME TRAVEL TIPS
- Plan a manageable vacation and consider the needs and safety of the person with memory loss.
- Never leave your loved one alone. Never ask a stranger to watch the person. Strangers probably won’t understand the effects of the disease and won’t know how to react in a difficult situation.
- Prepare identification items. Make sure your family member wears an identification bracelet. Keep important ID, traveler’s checks, passports and credit cards with you for security.
- Take security precautions. To prevent the person from exiting the car, use automatic locks and seatbelts. Lock the hotel room door and place a chair against it during the night while you sleep. Notify the hotel that your companion has memory loss.
- Prepare your traveling companion. Tell him/her only what they can handle considering the stage of the person’s illness.
- Time your travel. Take breaks along the way for snacks. Plan restroom stops. Allow for extra time anticipating and avoiding travel delays. Your loved one may travel better during a specific time of the day; you may want to make plans accordingly.
- Enjoy your special time together.