When you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, the holidays can be fraught with anxiety and sadness for everyone involved. While you, as caregiver, are dealing with extra responsibilities like cooking, decorating and hosting guests, family and friends may be witnessing the changes in Grandma or Uncle Bob for the first time. But most importantly, the holidays may cause someone with Alzheimer’s to come face-to-face with their loss, more than any other time of the year.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! With some foresight and planning—and adjustment of expectations—you and your loved ones can make the most of this precious time together.
Five Holiday Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers
- Avoid surprise. Start by preparing guests for how Aunt Peggy or Cousin Henry has changed—from memory deficits to personality shifts and confusion. Warn family members and friends that the person with Alzheimer’s may not know who they are or may confuse them with someone else. Rather than their trying to spark recognition or correcting them, advise your guests to treat Aunt Peggy like they always have or simply show Cousin Henry how happy they are to see him.
- Manage expectations. This holiday will have to be a little different than holidays past. Maybe you’ll serve Thanksgiving dinner at noon instead of 4 pm to avoid the evening confusion that is so often a part of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Or ask family members to stop by in shifts to avoid overwhelming Mom or Dad. Whatever the case, it’s important that family members willingly accept your decisions to make it easier for everyone concerned.
- Stick with the schedule. Routine is comforting to someone with Alzheimer’s. Try to maintain your loved one’s normal schedule—from when they have meals to when they go to bed at night. Your family member may also find comfort in family traditions, like favorite holiday songs or the grandkids pulling a wishbone, but don’t be discouraged if these rituals aren’t recalled. Just create some new traditions!
- Get in the spirit. Involve your loved one in preparations, like setting the table, wrapping gifts or handing you ornaments as you decorate the Christmas tree. But be safe about it. Avoid artificial fruits or candies in your arrangements as someone with dementia could mistake that plastic apple for the real thing, while blinking lights might confuse or even scare them.
- Take care of yourself, too. If you simply don’t feel up to hosting a dinner, shopping for gifts or decorating this year, there’s no shame in saying “no” to any of it. Spending time together is what the holidays are all about (despite what the advertisers tell you), now more than ever!