As a family member of a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, the holidays can be especially challenging. It may be painful for relatives to who don't often see Grandpa to understand how his disease has progressed and to cope with his lack of memory of events and even people. However, some planning and preparation can make your holiday family time enjoyable and memorable for everybody.
1. Inform Your Guests
In the early stages, family and friends may not notice a marked difference in Grandpa's behaviour or memory. If his disease has progressed farther, however, it's important to let out-of-towners know what to expect. A phone call or email explaining the changes, what to expect, and a reminder that it's due to the disease, not the person, can help tremendously in accepting the changes.
2. Set Expectations
Not only do guests need to know about the current situation that Grandpa is in, but they need to understand your caregiving situation and have realistic expectations about what you can do. Be forward and honest about limitations, needs, daily routines, etc.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Give yourself realistic expectations as well. Just because you have always invited the entire extended family plus the neighbourhood, that doesn't mean you have to this year. Consider decreasing the guest list and simplifying the meal plan or inviting others to contribute. Maybe you want to have a few smaller gatherings instead of one large one. This takes some of the pressure off of you and the anxiety and stress off of your loved one.
4. Vary from Tradition (Just a Little)
For many people with Alzheimer's or dementia, evening can cause confusion and agitation. If this is the case, try to plan the celebration earlier in the day. If the main meal will be at night, keep the room well-lit and try to avoid known triggers.
5. Prepare Your Loved One
If your loved one won't remember the guests when they arrive, help them prepare at least a week in advance. Show them pictures of the guests, describe their relationship and tell about them. Spend some time each day familiarizing your loved one with the guests so they aren't as flustered the day of.
6. Build on the Past
Have a focus on activities that are meaningful for your loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia. Looking through old photo albums, sharing stories about growing up, or playing/singing old music favorites can bring back younger, healthier days and memories that had been suppressed.
7. Involved Your Loved One in Preparation
As the person is able, involved them in cooking, decorating, setting the table, or other holiday preparations. Even setting them up to watch you will help them familiarize with the upcoming festivities. Being able to help will give them the pleasure of participating and giving and the exciting anticipation of what's coming.
8. Set up a Specified Quiet Place/Activity
One of the biggest concerns about the noise and distractions of the holidays is over-stimulating your loved one. Make a safe, quiet place they then go to when it all becomes to much, or plan quiet activities they can do such as looking through a family photo album, putting on some headphones with soothing music or cracking nuts. This can be especially helpful right after a meal when your loved one has indulged in rich or special food or drink, especially alcohol.
It may even be better to keep Grandpa in a room away from the main gathering place and have only a few guests in the room with him at any given time. Then he will likely be less stressed and confused come mealtime.
9. Maintain Routine
Sticking to your loved one's usual routine helps reduce stress and confusion for them. It may not be possible to stay with the routine exactly, but the closer you can get the better. Also plan plenty time for breaks and rest.
10. Plan Time for Yourself Afterwards
As enjoyable as it is to see friends and relatives, it can leave you feeling exhausting and burnt out. Consider asking a close friend or family member to care for your loved one for a day or two to give you a break and decompress. You can also hire a personal support worker to come in for a few hours to help you out and give you some free time. You deserve it!
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or dementia during the holidays requires extra planning and longer preparation but your loved one and out-of-town family will greatly appreciate it. Just don't forget that you don't have to do it all by yourself and to take care of your energy and health. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!