How To Handle The Holidays With An Alzheimer’s Patient
Entertaining the different personalities of an extended family under one roof, and making sure they all have a good time, has always been a challenge. But handling the holidays with an Alzheimer’s patient can add a whole new dimension to the gathering.
Memory loss is often more than forgetting or not recognizing someone. It can also mean strange and unanticipated behaviors. As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, basic knowledge about how to behave socially can become lost or confused. But managing a family gathering with the inclusion of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s will become more common as the percentage of elderly with this disease continues to grow.
Holidays With An Alzheimer’s Patient – 6 Steps To Improve Your Experience
- Make sure friends and relatives know what to expect and how to help. It can be awkward and embarrassing for everyone, if family members walk in expecting a warm greeting, only to be shocked that they aren’t recognized. Everything can go more smoothly when visitors know your loved one’s condition in advance. Advise everyone to focus on the present, or on old-time generalities, when talking to the senior with Alzheimer’s disease. And, never expect the senior to remember anyone’s name, relationship, or anything else.
- Involve the person with Alzheimer’s in preparations. Engage your loved one to help you with stamping Christmas card envelopes, making cookies, sorting old decorations, wrapping presents, or other simple holiday related chores. While you do these things together, play traditional holiday music and talk about who will be coming to visit. This can help your senior feel more comfortable when a number of people show up. Your senior will have at least a vague idea of what’s going on and be more likely to have a good time.
- Engage and calm with old favorites. Holiday songs from your senior’s youth and favorite decorations from their closet or garage can be calming, reassuring, and cheerful to the person with Alzheimer’s. These can serve as conversation pieces for the rest of the family as well and draw out old family memories which can be shared with the younger generation.
- Celebrate with large families in shifts. When someone has Alzheimer’s disease, large groups of people can be confusing and frightening. Consider saving yourself the trouble of gathering and seating all of your guests at once by scheduling them to arrive and eat in smaller groups. This has the added benefit of making conversation easier for everyone, as it’s hard to get a chance to talk with everyone in a large gathering. And, you can still make sure they have an opportunity to get together all at once at a different location, perhaps at a restaurant or another relative’s home, where drinks or dessert can be served and everyone can mingle without the concern of overwhelming your senior who has Alzheimer’s.
- Be realistic and find some help. For your guests to have a good time and for you to keep your health and sanity, be realistic about what you can actually accomplish. Consider asking neighbors, friends, or family to help out with the preparations. You might know someone whose teenager would be willing to keep your senior company while you prepare for your guests. You might ask everyone (or key family members) to bring part of the dinner, so you don’t have to cook so much.
- A small price for a once-a-year experience. Many extended families only get together once a year around the holidays, so you want to make the best of it. However, it may be hard for you to interact with everyone while simultaneously trying to play host and keep your senior loved one calm, content, and engaged in the evening. A professional home care worker can help smooth things over with your senior during the family gathering, and can look after your senior if they need to retreat to a quiet room, allowing you to fully enjoy your visitors. Try to schedule a caregiver in advance, so you know they will be available when you need them.
Things To Avoid
- Decorations that look edible. Many people with Alzheimer’s disease have difficulty recognizing objects, so you’ll want to avoid adding confusion with things like wax or wooded fruit which could not only frustrate your loved one, but could even cause a broken tooth or denture mishap.
- Too many changes to the look of the home. Keeping decorations to a minimum will leave the home feeling familiar and safe for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Too much rearrangement of the furniture. Leave things unmoved as much as possible If you have to rearrange to accommodate guests, try starting early and moving one piece of furniture per day or per week. That way, your senior won’t feel they are suddenly in an unfamiliar house.
- Large numbers of younger people your senior won’t recognize. Remember that Alzheimer’s generally starts with the destruction of more recent memories and works its way backward. Your senior may feel certain middle-aged or older relatives are familiar, but not be able to recognize grandchildren. Even people with Alzheimer’s can often enjoy the energy of young children, so kids should be welcome at your holiday celebrations. However, too many unrecognizable people in the room may make your senior feel lost and even panicky. Try having the youngest guests come and go in small groups, or have a separate room where they can play when they are being loud or wild. Make sure that the kids understand the person with Alzheimer’s has a disease that makes it hard for them to think, so the kids won’t be unsettled by strange actions or comments your senior might make.
Remember To Have Fun!
Holiday gatherings are supposed to be about celebrating with the company of family and friends, so remind yourself to take a deep breath and refuse to worry. Decide to do the best you can and enjoy your family no matter what. Remind yourself that you are more than a caregiver and more than a host or hostess. You are as deserving as anyone to enjoy the day and the company, sharing good memories and creating new ones. Let other family members, friends, or professionals help you shoulder the details of pulling everything together to ensure that holidays with an Alzheimer’s patient are enjoyable not overwhelming.
Need help with your holiday gathering? Home & Hearth Caregivers that can help reduce your workload. Contact us to learn more.