The holidays often center around traditions and meaningful time spent with loved ones. When one of your family members is affected by Alzheimer’s, you may find yourself caught in an emotional place between your desire to share time with them and the reality of who your loved one is today. You might long to share the memories of years past that are no longer possible.
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis doesn’t have to interfere with your ability to enjoy the holidays together. By making some adjustments to your expectations and schedule, you can bring cheer to your loved ones and enjoy yourself as well.
Consider Their Preferences
Your family may want to spend time with your loved one, but a person with Alzheimer’s might feel overwhelmed at the thought of big family dinners or an outing. Check in with the person by asking or observing what their preferences are before making plans.
If the person appears nervous at the mention of a religious service, for example, you may want to watch a program on TV instead. If the person is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s and lives at a residential facility, you may want to arrange several smaller family gatherings or phone calls instead of big events. Even if the person won’t remember you visited them at a nursing facility, it’s still important to spend quality time with them to make them feel loved.
However you decide to approach the holiday schedule, make sure to incorporate as much of their normal routine as possible to help them feel comfortable. Keep an eye on them for signs of fatigue or irritation so you know when it’s time for a break.
Escape Down Memory Lane
Holiday get-togethers are some the best places for sharing and reliving memories. If your loved one is in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, ask them to share holiday stories they remember. This is a prime opportunity to share quality time with them and learn about memories they may forget.
If the person has severe memory loss, you can be the one to share the moments you treasure with them. Bring out old photo albums and ornaments and involve your loved one in the sweet reminiscence. Gather your family together to sing carols with them to encourage a positive, inclusive spirit.
Adjust Your Expectations
You might not know what to expect during the holidays if you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Instead of expecting to stick to a calculated plan, you may find it more practical to leave room for change.
You may have to leave family gatherings earlier than you planned, miss a few events, or take a few detours along the way, but the best way to approach your time together is to leave room for the unexpected. By using an adaptable approach, you can avoid frustration and disappointment.
If you’re taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s during the holidays, don’t refrain from reaching out when you need respite. Ask other family members to run errands or bring a dish to pass to meals to spread the responsibility rather than take it all on yourself.
You can also involve the person with Alzheimer’s in helpful tasks such as folding napkins or kneading dough. They may feel a sense of purpose in keeping busy and contributing to the festivities.
Don’t Take It Personally
It’s important to remember not to take it personally when a person with Alzheimer’s gets angry or acts out. Agitation and lashing out are symptoms of the disease, not the person themselves. That perspective makes it easier to respond with compassion.
You may also need to explain the diagnosis and how to react to outbursts with other guests who may be involved. Make sure to treat your loved one with respect and empathy and also make an effort to communicate with them better.
If they tell a story multiple times, listen with interest rather than interjecting. If they get emotional, talk them through the situation kindly and find a safe place for them to regain composure if you need to.
Remember What the Holidays Are About
Your focus this holiday season is likely based on what’s most meaningful to you: re-establishing bonds with family and friends, participating in faith-based practices, and cultivating a season of heartfelt happiness. Those things don’t change when someone you love has Alzheimer’s.
The only thing you may need to adjust is your approach to the holidays. It's important to keep the meaning behind the season in perspective, no matter what the holidays look like this year, so you can all have the best experience possible.
The staff at Rehab Select wishes you and your family a season of health and fulfillment.