Alzheimer's and the Holidays

Alzheimer's: Planning for the holidays - suggestions from MayoClinic.com

Holidays can be bittersweet for families affected by Alzheimer's. The last thing you need is extra stress. Here's how to keep your celebration manageable and create new memories to cherish.

Alzheimer's disease affects every aspect of your family and community life. Your holiday observances are no exception. Holiday memories from before your loved one developed Alzheimer's may darken what usually is a joyful season. And worries about how your loved one's condition may disrupt your family's plans can overshadow the simple pleasure of being together.

Rather than dwell on how much things have changed or worry about what might go wrong, focus on making the holidays as enjoyable as possible. Consider your loved one's needs, but don't forget about yourself.

If your spouse, parent or other close companion is in an assisted-living facility or a nursing home, consider these tips:

Celebrate in the most familiar setting. For many people with Alzheimer's, a change of environment — even a visit home — causes anxiety. Instead of creating that disruption, consider holding a small family celebration at the facility. Find out what holiday activities are planned for the residents, and consider participating with your loved one there.

Keep the visitor traffic to a minimum. Arrange for a few family members to drop in on different days. Even if your loved one isn't sure who's who, two or three familiar faces are likely to be welcome, while nine or 10 may be confusing.
Schedule visits at your loved one's best time of day. People with Alzheimer's tire easily, particularly as they approach the late stage of the disease. Your loved one may appreciate morning and lunchtime visitors more than those in the afternoon or evening.

If you're caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's at home:

Make preparations together. When you bake, your loved one can measure flour, stir batter, roll dough into balls or simply watch as you work. Use favorite recipes and ask for advice. Open holiday cards and wrap gifts together.

Tone down your decorations. Blinking lights and large decorative displays can cause disorientation. Avoid candles and decorations such as artificial fruits that could be mistaken for edible treats.

Host quiet, slow-paced gatherings. Television, conversation and meal preparation all add to the noise and stimulation of an event. Keep things as quiet as possible and encourage your loved one to rest during family get-togethers.

Care for yourself

Consider your needs, as well as those of your loved one. Here are some tips to help you manage your expectations of yourself:

Pick and choose. Decide which holiday activities and traditions are most important. Remember that you can't do it all. Focus on what you enjoy.

Simplify. Bake fewer cookies. Ask others to provide portions of holiday meals, and use disposable plates and utensils. Write a holiday letter and send a copy to family and friends instead of sending handwritten cards.

Delegate. Remember family members and friends who have offered their assistance. Let them help with cleaning, writing cards and shopping for gifts. Ask if one of your children or a close friend could stay with your loved one while you go to a holiday party.

Trust your instincts

Caregivers know best what their loved ones with Alzheimer's disease are capable of doing — and what agitates and upsets them. Resist pressure to celebrate the way others may expect you to. You can't control the progress of Alzheimer's or protect your loved one from all distress. But by planning and setting firm boundaries, you can avoid needless holiday stress and enjoy the warmth of the season.

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