If your mom or dad always got swept up in the fun and excitement of the holidays, watching Alzheimer’s steal the joy of the season away from them can be heartbreaking. They may become overwhelmed with the festivities, grow frustrated by the guests and noise, or, hardest of all for families, forget it’s Christmas altogether.
While your holiday celebration may look different from those of years past, you can still create new traditions and memories that better fit your loved one’s current needs. You just have to adjust your expectations and instead focus on what’s most important about the season.
Tips to reduce your loved one’s stress—and yours
The stage of your loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease can affect how they experience the holidays. Many individuals can still enjoy most of the festivities without any issues or concerns, but for those in the middle and later stages of the disease, you may have to take extra steps to minimize their stress.
- As you start prepping, encourage your loved one to join you in baking, decorating or gift-wrapping. If they’re unable to participate physically, allow them to sit back and observe while you share some holiday memories and get them excited about the festivities to come.
- Because individuals with Alzheimer’s thrive in the familiar, consider hosting a small holiday celebration at home and let family come to you. Celebrating with a big gathering in an unrecognizable location, complete with crowds, noise and dark lighting, can upset your loved one.
- Avoid scheduling your celebration at night when your loved one is more susceptible to evening confusion, or “sundowning.” Plan for a family meal at their usual lunchtime when they are more likely to be awake, alert and engaged.
- Keep your holiday decorations to a minimum. Blinking lights can cause confusion while fragile decorations, candles and artificial fruits or foods can be safety hazards. If you can, secure your Christmas tree to the wall to prevent it from falling.
- Turn on your favorite Christmas tunes throughout the season. Music can help ease your loved one’s anxiety and agitation, give them something to focus on besides the hustle and bustle around them, and even connect in unexpected ways with friends and family members.
- If you are attending a large gathering, be sure there’s a quiet space for your loved one. If they feel overstimulated, guide them to a spare bedroom or den where they can relax, rest and recharge.
- In the weeks before your guests arrive, inform them of any changes in your loved one’s condition. Explain that while they may forget names and faces, they still want to be included in the festivities.
Simplifying the holiday madness is important to your overall happiness and health as well! As a caregiver, you should do everything you can to make the season easier on you. Streamline your dinner menu and decorations, do all of your shopping online, delegate party duties to friends and families. And most important, take time for yourself. If there’s a holiday outing or activity you go to each year, ask a family member to care for your loved one while you enjoy a night on the town!
For more recommendations on celebrating the season with a loved one facing dementia or Alzheimer’s, talk with their home health care company or healthcare provider. Although this new normal may be painful, by focusing on the positive, you can create new, treasured memories that will bring you comfort in the years to come.