Holiday visits can be very stressful for someone struggling with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. The Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has some ideas for caregivers who are hosting celebrations and for those traveling with a loved one who has dementia that may ease the stress for everyone involved.
Chapter Program Director Lesley Kennedy advised in a news release that “while traditions are important, making adjustments to reflect the new reality of caring for someone with dementia can go a long way in eliminating or reducing tension around what is typically a very stressful time.”
Some simple steps could mean the difference between an enjoyable holiday with family, and a situation that could spiral into an ugly scene:
1. Adjust expectations: Make sure visitors are aware of the situation with your loved one and consider simplifying plans instead of hosting large-scale get-togethers.
2. Build on the past: A loved one with dementia may find comfort in the familiar songs of family sing-alongs of holiday favorites.
3. Take care with decorations: Avoid using candles, artificial fruits or vegetables, and consider changing blinking lights to static ones to avoid confusing your loved one.
4. Keep routines: Mealtimes, medication schedules and bed times should be adhered to whenever possible.
5. Control overindulgence: Rich holiday food should be served in moderation and alcohol should be avoided.
6. Take time for yourself: Caregivers need to take advantage of offers of help so they can recharge their own batteries.
If you plan to visit a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, keep in mind:
• Unannounced drop-in visits are not a good idea. Call ahead before you visit and try to be flexible. The unpredictable behaviors of some people with Alzheimer’s disease may make last-minute changes unavoidable.
• Don’t use a third party to speak to the person with Alzheimer’s disease; speak directly to them and make sure they are within earshot.
• Keep your visit short and quiet, and try to limit the number of people who are visiting at one time.
• Acknowledge the caregiver. They would probably welcome a note or other gesture that indicates “I care and I am thinking of you.”
• Stay in touch with the caregiver. The holidays may be over, but the challenges of dementia caregiving never end, and a phone call or scheduled visit may be just what they need to reconnect, stay focused and take some “me” time.
Kennedy said Alzheimer’s Association experts can be reached around the clock every day “to provide confidential advice for caregivers who may feel overwhelmed or just don’t know what to do.” The “Helpline” phone number is (800) 272-3900.