Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2018 -- Several years ago I was visiting with a man who cared for his wife with Alzheimer’s disease. His concern was that for the past year she had been delightful and easy to care for. Then, as they approached the holidays, she became restless, anxious, and combative. He asked for help in understanding what had caused the change. As I looked around the couple’s home I noticed that there were Christmas decorations in every room and on every surface. I felt overwhelmed and suggested that there were so many decorations that the house may no longer seem familiar to his wife. “But she loves Christmas!” he protested. “I did this all for her.” I commended him for all his effort, but encouraged him to limit the decorations to a few of her favorites. A few days later he called to let me know that his wife was back to her old self again.
Navigating the holidays can be a challenging time for caregivers. Here are a few tips to help make the days ahead more enjoyable.
- Start off by choosing a goal to focus on. In other words, what do you want most? A joyful celebration? Enjoyable visit with family and friends? Minimal stress?
- Choose a location to celebrate that will best help you reach that goal. This may mean fixing a traditional meal at home, but it could also mean dining out at a restaurant or eating at home, but picking the meal up at a restaurant. It might also mean sharing a meal with your loved one at a long term care facility.
- Choose the best time of day. It may be that your family has always celebrated in the evening or late at night. For people with dementia this is often the least optimum time of day. This year you may want to celebrate at a time of day when your loved one is at his or her best.
- Do you have a large family? You might want to consider setting aside a quiet room for your loved one with dementia to visit with one or two people at a time. Large crowds can be overwhelming and cause unwanted reactions.
- Consider asking people to wear name tags if you are celebrating with a large group (maybe even with an old picture taken several years ago.)
- Remember that your loved one may enjoy observing more than participating.
- Be flexible and open to changing plans at the last minute.
- Finally, take a moment to pamper yourself or give yourself a gift.
Remember: It’s not the gifts or the traditions that matter most at the holidays… it’s knowing by feeling that, at any given moment, you are loved.
Bill Hinrichs, associate director of programs and services diversity, inclusion & advocacy initiatives, Alzheimer's Association Northeastern New York, 4 Pine West Plaza, Suite 405, Albany, N.Y. 12205. For more information, please call (518) 867-4999.