The holiday season is upon us. And while the season brings the promise of all things merry and bright, it’s not without its challenges — particularly if you have a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to minimize stress and maximize joy over the next few weeks. Here are five tips aimed at helping you handle the holidays while caring for an aging loved one with Alzheimer’s.
1. Keep their needs at the forefront.
Activities can be vital to keeping people with Alzheimer’s engaged. However, they can also be overwhelming — particularly during the busy holiday season.
When scheduling social events, the Alzheimer’s Association advises: “Having an open discussion around any concerns and making slight adjustments can make a difference. For example, a large social gathering may be overwhelming, but the person may be able to interact more successfully in smaller groups.”
While this may mean paring down or opting out of some of your usual holiday festivities, it also means your parent will be more comfortable. Remember: quality is what counts.
Speaking of paring down, going easy on the decorations not only means less work for you but also less risk of disorientation and overstimulation for your aging loved one. Moderation can still be meaningful.
2. Give family and friends a heads up.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. Your aging loved one may have changed dramatically over the past year, which can be difficult for family members — especially children — who haven’t seen them in a while.
Plan a family discussion ahead of time to address your parent’s capabilities and limitations. The more everyone understands what to expect, the better prepared they’ll be to manage their own expectations while supporting you and your parent. This is also an excellent time to address any issues that may arise, from communication to wandering.
3. Embrace old memories — and make a few new ones.
People with Alzheimer’s disease may have vivid memories from long ago. Sharing these memories can be an invaluable way to preserve them. Looking through old photo albums together, creating a scrapbook of pictures and mementos, recording “remember when” stories, listening to music associated with your parent’s younger years, taking inventory of heirloom ornaments and looking at old holiday cards can stimulate aging brains while evoking happy memories.
One caveat: If your parent becomes anxious, irritable or distracted when engaging in any of these activities, move onto something else.
But just because this holiday is different than past holidays doesn’t mean you can’t create new traditions. For example, if your aging loved one has fond memories of a particular food, cooking it together can be a fulfilling way to connect.
4. Involve them whenever possible.
Your parent may no longer be able to cook and serve a family feast, but this doesn’t mean he or she can no longer contribute.
Suggests the Alzheimer’s Association, “Activities that help the individual feel like a valued part of the household — like setting the table — can provide a sense of success and accomplishment.”
Polishing silver, stringing cranberries and wrapping presents are just a few holiday preparations that may be suitable for your aging loved one.
“Activities that help the individual feel like a valued part of the household — like setting the table — can provide a sense of success and accomplishment.”
“Focus on their current abilities and have them help with small tasks they can successfully accomplish. They’ll feel useful and be happily occupied while you work on other things,” adds DailyCaring.
5. Attend to your own needs.
One of the best ways to help your aging loved one is making time for adequate self-care measures.
“People with Alzheimer’s or dementia are usually quite sensitive to other people’s moods and feelings….If you’re stressed and anxious, they’re likely to get stressed and agitated too. That can lead to challenging behaviors, which will then make you even more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle,” continues DailyCaring.
Learning to say no, asking for help, and taking time out for yourself are all vital ways to safeguard your own health and happiness — and by proxy, your aging loved one’s — during the sometimes overwhelming hustle and bustle of the holidays.
And when caring for an aging loved one with Alzheimer’s disease during the holidays, remember that being together is a gift. Rather than dwelling on who your parent was in the past or worrying about what will happen in the future, commit to living in — and enjoying — the moment this holiday season.