By: Audrey Miller MSW, RSW, CCRC, CCLCP
The holidays can be a wonderful time to spend together with loved ones, remembering the meaning of the season and celebrating together. When visiting with and sharing time with a family member who has dementia, the challenge is with the expectation. The Alzheimer’s Society notes that often caregivers must deal with feelings and emotions that arise when remembering past holidays when their family member was well. They may also feel overwhelmed with trying to maintain holiday traditions while keeping up their care giving responsibilities. They may worry about visitors who don’t feel comfortable around a person with dementia or about meeting expectations of friends, family and themselves. They may even feel guilty for not being able to get into the holiday spirit.
The person with dementia may have an equally difficult time coping with the holiday season. They may find that they feel a particular sense of loss at not being able to participate the way they once did. They may find it difficult and anxiety inducing to deal with the influx of guests and the change to routines. If you find yourself in this position, there are things that you as a caregiver can do to reduce stress for both yourself AND those you are caring for.
For caregivers, it is important to recognize your limits and take time for yourself. Try to change the expectations you place on yourself and others. Keep other family members and friends informed of your loved ones’ medical and cognitive status and seek help from them when you need a break.
To help make the holiday season less stressful for your loved one, and thus more enjoyable all, MAREP, an Alzheimer’s research organization has provided some great suggestions:
- Take your time – synchronize your pace to that of your family member with dementia. The holiday season is about enjoying quality time with family and excessive entertaining activities can be overwhelming
- Plan one activity at a time – multitasking can lead to frustration for everyone
- Understand if your family member doesn’t seem to appreciate the efforts of an elaborate dinner – they may be happy to be in your company and get anxious with all of the activity and fuss involved in meal preparation. Alternately, they may enjoy being included in the preparations for the holiday meal
- Consider the noise level and multiple distractions that cause a person with dementia a great deal of stress when with large groups of family or friendsDo not be offended if they want to go home immediately after eating dinner
- Be considerate of the words “do you remember” as this often places pressure a person to reminisce and remember specifics if they have memory difficulty
- Sharing photo albums of previous holiday celebrations can assist with a relaxing form of reminiscence
- Provide a quiet place for a family member with dementia to relax – they may need some time to relax to continue with the activities of the season
- Set priorities and a routine for the holidays in advance. Decide what is most important and focus on those priorities
- Include the person with dementia in decision making around the holiday plans and listen to their preferences and hopes for the holidays
- Go for a drive/walk to watch the lights
- Play games (your own Hannukah or Christmas traditions)
- Sing holiday songs.
Gift ideas can include:
- Talking and sharing stories
- Looking at photo albums together
- Listening to music and watching old movies together
- Hand lotion and a hand massage can be very well received- gentle touching can be appreciated
- For those in the later stages, picture books of animals and babies are often well received.
For the caregiver, providing some respite time can be a wonderful gift and one that is priceless.
Stress and the holidays may seem to be inextricably linked but by planning outside the usual box, these tips will hopefully reduce stress for both you and your family member with dementia.