Holidays are a time of fellowship and unity with family and friends. Yet, the holidays can be difficult for families when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Caregivers may feel overwhelmed with balancing care and managing holiday traditions. A person living with Alzheimer’s or dementia may feel that something is missing but may not be able to express their feelings. In addition to the common stressors that arise during the holidays, the challenges of COVID-19 add layers of complexity. The pandemic has interrupted the overall connectedness of families and friends and has magnified the sense of overwhelm and isolation that many caregivers face, especially during the holidays.
Keeping with physical distancing and public health recommendations, here are some tips to consider to minimize stress and maximize joyful time together:
Make sure that everyone understands your caregiving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can and cannot do. Give yourself permission to do only what you can.
Involve the person in safe, manageable holiday preparation activities. Ask him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages or decorate or set the table. (Avoid using artificial fruits and vegetables as decorations because a person living with dementia might confuse them with real food. Blinking lights may also confuse the person.)
Maintain the person’s normal routine as much as possible so that holiday preparations don’t become disruptive or confusing. Taking on too many tasks can wear on both of you.
Build on traditions and memories. These may look and feel a little different this year, but you may also experiment with new traditions that might be less stressful or a better fit with your caregiving responsibilities.
Provide people with suggestions for useful and enjoyable gifts for your loved one, such as an identification bracelet or membership in a wandering response service (contact the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information). Or, suggest comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing; favorite music; photo albums of family and friends; or favorite treats.
Advise people not to give dangerous tools or instruments, utensils, challenging board games, complicated electronic equipment or pets as gifts.
Involve the person in gift-giving, depending on his or her abilities and preferences. For example, someone who enjoys baking can help make cookies and pack them in holiday tins. Or you may want to buy a gift the person can wrap.
Suggest a gift certificate or something that will help make things easier, like housecleaning; lawn, handyman or laundry services; gift cards; or even respite services (when it is deemed safe).
Prepare for post-holiday letdown. Arrange in-home care so you can rest, enjoy a movie or have lunch with a friend.
Prepare for some downtime. A short nap or some quiet time in a room away from activity can provide a nice break for someone with Alzheimer’s. Often, a short nap is all that is needed to enable them to rejoin the festivities.
Don’t forget to give yourself time to relax. If you are the primary caregiver, you need to take time to tend to your own emotional health so you can enjoy the holidays with your loved one. For more information and holiday tips, contact Tonya Tullis at 808-518-6651 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION (501(c) 3 nonprofit)
Online Community: www.alzconnected.org
Online Education: www.training.alz.org
Support Groups & Programs: www.alz.org/hawaii
24/7 HELPLINE: 800-272-3900
Hawai‘i Office: 808-591-2771