The Holidays With A Loved One That Has Memory Loss
The holidays can be a tough time to get through when you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. To help maintain not only your loved one’s health but also your own mental health, here are some tips to help de-stress during the holidays and hopefully make things manageable.
1. Keep The Holidays Simple (Or As Simple As They Can Be): A key to planning holiday events with someone with dementia is to keep things as simple as possible, but find ways to include them. Whether you are hosting or visiting from out of town with your loved one try to plan ahead to identify some things your loved one can do at home or at the location you are visiting. Then try to make sure they are included in these opportunities. Can they mix up cookie dough or decorate cookies? Can they chop vegetables? Can they fold the table linens or set the table or arrange the food on trays?
2. Plan Activities That Everybody Can Join In. Consider taking walks, icing cookies, telling stories, making paper airplanes and then flying them, playing board games, doing chores together, making a memory book or family tree, or keeping a journal.
3. Structure and routine are important for a person with dementia. Plan ahead. Have an outline for the day, minimize the rules. If there is any change – like attending a gathering at another home – he or she could be out of sorts for the next few days, adding stress to the caregiver. Unexpected changes in routine can be tough for the person to adapt to. Sometimes, it’s best for the loved one to stay at home and receive visits of 30 minutes or less from a small number of guests stretched out over a period of days. Keep the number of guests to a minimum; sometimes even having two extra people in the room can be too much stimulation.
4. Prepare yourself and loved ones in advance: If the person with dementia has been experiencing changes and the guests have not seen the person in a long time, talk to them in advance about what to expect. Familiarize family and friends with behaviors and condition changes. Let everyone know that Grandma or Grandpa might forget things but that they will remember the way they feel around you.
5. Ask your family for help. Caregivers should try to ask for help when they can. If you are the primary caregiver, select things others can do for you and ask specific people to do them. Try not to be shy, it’s possible others may want to help but don’t know how. Share activities of the day, from laughter to clean up, which will allow everyone to help you. Sharing creates caring.
6. Self care is important. Pace yourself so you can be present with your loved one, family and friends. Also, you may need to shift your mental perspective and resolve to be alright with however the holidays turn out. Remember that your priority for your event is to love and have fun. Everything else that occurs is incidental. Remember to enjoy yourself. Although you may have a schedule going into the holidays if things don't happen as you expect, try to be flexible and open so you don't become overstressed or take things personally.
7. What can you give to someone with memory issues and their caregivers? Try practical and useful gifts, such as ID bracelets, easy-to-remove clothing, art supplies, or favorite music/books/movies. Caregivers usually appreciate anything that makes their life easier, such as gift cards for take-out food or a promise to help with a project around the home that they haven’t been able to tackle. You can offer to stay with the person so the caregiver can attend a family gathering or take time for him or herself. Extend the gift of yourself throughout the year. If you’re an adult child of someone with dementia, offer to stay with a parent each weekend for a few hours to provide relief to a caregiving parent or sibling. Develop new family traditions that has everybody involved.