Holiday planning: Alzheimer’s, other dementias create special needs for families

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and families are making plans to

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celebrate them. The hustle and bustle of the season often fills the household with an added measure of stress. Shopping has to be done. Dinner parties and other special functions begin to fill the family schedule. Those things are enough to cause headaches for any family.

But what about families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia? How will they cope with the holidays, when members of their families don’t see the world the same as they once did? What if the added activities elevate the level of anxiety for their loved ones? What should they do?

Two words for families: simplify and prioritize.

“Don’t attempt to do everything you did in the past,” “You will need to simplify and prioritize traditions. It may help to have a family planning session, including young children, well in advance to discuss everyone’s needs, expectations and roles.”

One way to simplify and prioritize, is to put everything on a large kitchen calendar.

“Before you write a party or event on the calendar, make sure you really want to attend and that it is worth the effort. The fewer events, the fewer things you have to make plans for, which frees up valuable time.

The family caregivers see the changes in their loved ones. Family members who come around infrequently may not be prepared to see their ailing loved ones in their current condition.  An open line of communication is important.

“Prepare your visitors for changes in the mood or the behavior of the person with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.“Let them know what time and what type of visit are best for that person and for you. Share communication techniques with your visitors. And, be sure to turn off the television. It’s important to remember to be calm and quiet. It’s also wise to prepare distractions beforehand. Old family photos, old scrapbooks, folding clothes, wrapping pennies, matching buttons, matching socks are things that should be in your bag of tricks to have ready should a distraction be needed, if your loved one gets upset or agitated.”

“Learn to say ‘yes’ to offers of help, such as shopping, wrapping, writing cards or preparing your favorite recipe. Keep this practice of saying ‘yes’ even after the holidays are over.”

“Do something special for yourself,”  “Go out for lunch or shopping with a friend or family member. Schedule a manicure, a hair dressing appointment or a massage before or after the holidays. Put yourself high on your gift list. Get as much sleep as possible. Exercise as much as possible. Laugh. Eat breakfast. Try to relax every now and then. Close your eyes and imagine you are somewhere quiet and peaceful, like at the beach. Use all of your senses to focus on it. When you take care of yourself, you are taking care of your loved one.”

And, change the way you’ve handled holidays in the past.

“Avoid those traditions which bring more awareness of loss than pleasure.” “Focus on traditions which still bring joy and warmth. Try to remember that things can’t be exactly like they were. Life has changed for you. So, you do not have to live up to either the expectations you sense in others or those you have of yourself. Set your own limits early and be clear about them to others. There will be other holidays, when your hands won’t be so full.”

If planned out well, the holidays can be a time of creating new traditions and new moments of joy for all involved.

“Holidays have long been a time of conflicting emotions.” “Along with stressful and frantic rushing around, there are the beautiful shared occasions with family members and friends. But, when we add to that the care of an Alzheimer patient and the emotional and physical exhaustion of a caregiver, holidays can be overwhelming. Because the holidays, in particular, can be a time to rekindle beautiful memories and to enjoy the moment, it is important to approach them with the understanding that some of the traditions we shared in the past will need to be different.”

As a coping mechanism, Jones says it’s important to focus on the true meaning of the holiday season.

“The holidays are about sharing, caring, giving and loving.” “They are about giving thanks for the past, reliving and giving thanks for those memories. And, as we reflect on our memories and traditions, we are sharing the joy of the past with our parents and grandparents as well as with our future generations.

“When the hustle and bustle and exhaustion of the holidays are over, hopefully, those moments of joy, pleasure, remembering, smiling and loving during the holiday season will have been captured in our memories for many years to come – even as our own children will celebrate the holiday season one day with their families.”

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