Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia can be stressful, especially during the holiday season which is one of the busiest times of the year. Over half (55%) of family caregivers report feeling overwhelmed with caregiving in addition to holiday errands, work and other social responsibilities. To this end, we participated as the featured guest in a discussion on “Alzheimer’s Caregiving During the Holidays” led by the Alzheimer’s Association. Below is an overview of the discussion’s highlights, which feature tips on how to navigate the holiday season when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s in question and answer form.
Q: What are the best ways to involve those living with dementia in holiday preparation?
- Try breaking down tasks into simple steps. For example, involve them in gift-wrapping by asking them to hand you presents or tape ends. One step won’t be as overwhelming as the whole task!
- Simple, repetitive tasks can be calming. Involve the person with dementia by having them fold napkins, shell peas or paint do-it-yourself holiday décor.
- Play holiday music while you bake, decorate the house or do other holiday preparations with your loved one.
Q: What are some gift ideas to give the caregivers you know?
- A gift certificate to a spa is a nice way to encourage the caregiver to take a break and pamper him- or herself! A Marriott gift certificate, for example, can be used for spa services or a nice dinner out.
- A useful gift, like paying for groceries to be delivered or a ready-cooked meal, can be both helpful and thoughtful. Safety or assistive devices that will help them care for their loved one, such as door alarms, can also be beneficial.
- Offering to help so they can take a break and go shop or see a movie can mean a lot. If you can’t help yourself, hiring respite care for the caregiver is a good way to give them the break they need.
Q: How can family caregivers of those living with dementia finish holiday errands or take a break?
- Respite care is temporary care for a loved one and it allows the family caregiver a much-needed break; they can take this time to run holiday errands or spend time with friends.
- Additional help, whether from a family member or hired caregiver, can greatly reduce stress. You don’t have to feel guilty leaving a loved one alone – home care services like ours can be contract-free and temporary.
- Remember that if you are stressed, the person with Alzheimer’s can sense this and become anxious as well. Good to plan ahead to avoid anxiety.
Q: What should you do when someone with dementia is feeling overwhelmed during the holiday season?
- Designate a quiet, safe space away from the business of a holiday gathering; this room shouldn’t have a TV or any sound. You may even prepare a sanctuary with activities they enjoy; adult coloring books can often be calming too.
- Don’t push limits; plan on staying for one hour or two and inform the host in advance. Too much stimulation can be overwhelming.
- Try to prevent overstimulation by ensuring proper seating where the person with Alzheimer’s is most comfortable and remember to accommodate their specific nutritional needs.
Q: How can people engage their loved one living with dementia in family traditions during the holidays?
- The most important thing is to talk to the person before! Some wish to be very involved, while others prefer quiet activities.
- Don’t talk about them as though they are not there. Engage the person and use nonverbal cues to convey what you mean.
- Pass down family traditions to connect the generations! If the person with Alzheimer’s wants to, encourage them to share the stories behind the tradition.
- The person with Alzheimer’s may not remember Christmas but will remember the joy of the season. Your presence is enough; hold hands and enjoy your time together.
Q: How can families bring children and people living with dementia together successfully?
- Offer specific examples to younger children, such as grandma may not be able to dance much. This will help them know what to expect. Explaining Alzheimer’s or dementia may be difficult, so by offering examples, children can understand more easily.
- Share updates with all family members in advance so that they are prepared. Send them an e-mail beforehand informing them that your loved one has Alzheimer’s, what may have changed since the last time they saw them, and what to expect.
- Bring children and people living with dementia together by bringing out scrapbooks and hosting a ‘story time’. Younger children and toddlers will love this!
- Involve younger, tech-savvy kids by asking them to take pictures or record the event. The person with Alzheimer’s may enjoy these later on!
We hope that these useful tips help you and your loved ones enjoy a wonderful holiday season. For more information on holiday care for seniors, download our free Holiday Survival Guide for Family Caregivers.