Making the Holidays Happy for Those With Alzheimer's

Published: November 13, 2014

By: Hilary Mincenberg, Activities Coordinator, RoseCrest Assisted Living

In Hollywood Christmases, we see family crises resolved and longstanding wounds healed through the power of the season. In real life, however, it is rarely that simple. The truth is that, for many of us the holidays intensify existing issues, adding more pressure, rather than relieving it. Family dynamics, already exacerbated by a loved one’s Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis, prove to be even more stressful as each individual struggles with the changes in their loved one.

Relatives arrive from out of town bringing with them their own set of expectations and pressures. There is the temptation to compare our loved one’s behavior with that of previous years. A grieving process begins that can surface and manifest in unusual ways such as anger, intolerance, or general irritability. We can become depressed, maybe even experience a crisis in faith.

There are several steps we can take to help us avoid some of these emotional pitfalls. First, we can remind ourselves that being with your loved one is what matters, regardless of the holiday. Second, we can try as best we can to let go of all expectations surrounding the holiday and the person with Alzheimer’s. Letting go opens up to many wonderful moments – moments that we will miss if we are distracted by our own agenda. We can – and should – plan, plan, plan!

  • If a large family group is expected for a visit, stagger the arrival times so that it is not overwhelming for your loved one with Alzheimer’s. Let the group slowly form around them so that they are less likely to shut down or feel overwhelmed. This can also be a helpful approach for large gatherings at restaurants.
  • Limit the length of the visit. For some people with Alzheimer’s, several short visits are easier to handle than one long one. They may no longer be capable of determining when they are getting tired, producing stress and possible disorientation.
  • Go along with what your loved one may need to do at that moment. In response to a break in their routine, they may need to walk with you for a while – so walk with them. They may need to stay in activities for some moments as part of their “switching gears” to visiting. Join the activity with them for a few minutes. In other words, go with the flow.
  • Make an agreement with your family members to leave all issues, recent or ongoing, at the door. Do not discuss any family controversies in front of the loved one with Alzheimer’s. It might be best for the family to go on hiatus from family matters until after the holiday, since people with Alzheimer’s are hypersensitive to changes in the emotional atmosphere.
  • Simplify. Make one-step plans. For example, go to lunch, but do not shop before or after. Or, go shopping, but get food to go for lunch, and either eat it in the car or at home. If there are visitors from out of town with limited time, perhaps they could visit in the morning, break away to let their loved one rest, and then return to take them out later in the afternoon.
  • Truly enter the moment and enjoy it. Be sure and take some time for yourself for the holiday, even if you have limited time to do it. Get sleep. It is hard enough to resist the holiday frenzy without pressuring yourself about making holiday cheer for your loved one with Alzheimer’s. Remember, they already live in the moment. They just want to be with you. So do not overload your schedule.
  • Make a resolution to create new family traditions based on the experiences of the current holidays and in every way imaginable, make the most of every moment.

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