Dementia is a difficult disease to handle at the best of times–but mix in the constant sensory stimulation of the holidays with an influx of family members, and you could have a recipe for disaster! Dementia patients are often easily distressed, and depending on the variation they suffer from, they could even become aggressive or violent. Luckily, a little advance planning and some honest, open discussion among family members can keep your holiday memories from becoming cringe-worthy.
Remember to tailor your response to your loved one’s dementia based on their specific symptoms and how advanced the disease is; not all of the tips below will apply to everyone!
Dealing with Dementia
A senior citizen with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia has very different needs than many other family members; try to keep them comfortable. Remember to keep a favorite sweater or a warm blanket handy in case they get cold; as we all know, the elderly often feel the winter nip in the air more keenly than those who are younger!
Many times, a loved one with early or moderate-stage dementia may feel the need to help with holiday preparations; after all, they’ve been doing it their entire lives! Rejecting their offers of help, even out of the best of intentions, can foster wounded feelings. Instead, ask them to help with simple, repetitive tasks, like stringing popcorn and berries for garlands, or signing cards from the whole family. Not only will it cut down on your own load, but repetitive tasks can be soothing for those suffering from dementia.
Remember that disruptions of routine can be upsetting to dementia patients; try your best to keep their regular schedule! If you have morning or evening routines with your loved ones, don’t let the holidays preempt them; starting and ending the day on the right note can lead to a reduction of stress for everyone involved.
If traveling is difficult with your elderly loved one, don’t be afraid to ask family and friends to come to you. The holidays are a time to be with the people you care about–and right now, one of those people has some very special requirements. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting family traditions to better facilitate your parents’ or grandparents’ enjoyment of them! Start some new traditions!
On the other hand, there’s a common saying among memory loss experts that goes, “last in, first out; first in, last out.” What this means is that long-standing memories–memories from decades ago–can be the memories that remain longest. Try to keep long-standing traditions; it can help your loved one remain oriented to their present time and season, and help them to better enjoy the holidays without becoming totally confused.
Preparing Family for the Differences
Before they arrive for the holidays, have a detailed, honest, and open discussion with your family members about your elderly loved one’s condition. If siblings, cousins, or nieces and nephews haven’t seen Grandma and Grandpa in a while, it’s best to prepare them, and let them know about any memory loss. Be sure to emphasize that memory loss is not a personal insult. Many times, people can become hurt when their grandparents or parents don’t recognize them, or mistake them for another family member or friend; remind them that this doesn’t mean they aren’t loved, just that your loved one is sick.
Let them know how to gently remind your loved one who they’re with and where they are, without getting upset; although dementia patients can be intellectually confused, they can pick up on emotional cues from those around them. If the people in their vicinity are upset or emotional, chances are your loved one will be too.
Explaining dementia or Alzheimer’s disease to children can be difficult and heartbreaking, but it can be for the best. Try to explain to any children present why they need to watch their behavior, even though they’re around family, and be sure to emphasize the first point–that if Grandpa and Grandma don’t recognize them, it’s just because they’ve changed so much!
Celebrating the holidays with a family member suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult, but keeping your eyes open and your expectations realistic can help to curtail any hurt feelings or family disasters. Remember–your loved one hasn’t morphed into a disease. The parent, spouse, grandparent, or sibling you love is still there; they just need a little extra TLC!
From all of us here at CarePlus, we wish you and your family members the best of holidays, and a happy, hopeful start to the new year.