The holidays from the point of view of a person with Alzheimer’s
Holiday celebrations are generally occasions to look forward to, but for a person with Alzheimer’s, holiday gatherings can be overwhelming.
We joined a conference call last week with Us Against Alzheimer's and listened to caregivers and patients share their perspectives on the holiday season. It's always good to know different ways to keep an optimal environment for everyone. We hope these stories and suggestions can help you better plan for the holidays.
One man in his early stages of Alzheimer’s shared that holidays never seem right to him anymore. He feels as though he is an inconvenience to his family and understands that everything has to change to fit his needs. A response from a caregiver on the call was, "Your loved ones love you. It doesn’t matter what changes need to be made, they are happy to do it."
His ideal Christmas celebration would include multiple gatherings with only 2 people at a time.
HELPFUL HOLIDAY HINTS
Keep your expectations reasonable.
Especially in the later stages, plan on having multiple smaller celebrations rather than the whole family gathering all day.
Don’t be disappointed if your loved one with Alzheimer’s can't be with you the entire day. Make arrangements for him to be able to rest in his room or return to his facility once he's had enough.
Make adjustments to fit his needs. Don’t put up the blinking lights or as many decorations this year.
Let her sit at the end of the table instead of the middle so she can better see who she’s looking at and not have as much background noise.
Be able to let go of what was. Change your focus to what is and find the beauty in that. Be in the moment and enjoy that moment.
It’s great if your loved ones are able to communicate their needs to you. Make sure you create a comfortable and nurturing environment for them to be able to share those needs. Ask them direct questions so they have an opportunity to tell you what is best for them.
It’s important to have these conversations before the holidays so everyone is on the same page. Let everyone know that if dad gets overwhelmed, it’s okay for him to go upstairs and rest in the bedroom. Make sure you notice if he’s starting to look fatigued and bring him upstairs yourself. If you talk about expectations beforehand its easier for everyone.
Denial about a parent or spouse who has Alzheimer’s is very common. If someone in your family thinks its okay to carry on with the holidays as normal, its best to talk to them in private. Discuss what they can expect from dad if they think it’s appropriate to include him all-day in festivities with the entire family. This isn’t fair to dad and it will likely leave everyone feeling pretty bad.
Another person just recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s said he doesn’t like to be in noisy environments, a common concern for a person with Alzheimer’s. In later stages someone may not be able to communicate that with you. If your loved ones are unable to communicate their needs, you will need to be more aware of what they are comfortable with and when they are fatigued.
Adjust the environment to fit their needs. Too many decorations or blinking lights might be overwhelming. Sitting at the end of the table, rather than in the middle can help because everyone is in front of him or her and it’s easier to focus without noise coming from every direction. Instead of one large holiday party, consider breaking them into a few smaller gatherings.
Not only will making these adjustments leave everyone with happier memories, it will set a great example for all the kids involved in the festivities. It will teach them that families go with the flow and can be a place of joy no matter what.
The holidays will be different when you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s but it doesn't mean it has to be difficult. Use your energy to make it a better experience for everyone involved rather than using your energy to fight against the changes.
Provide plenty of quiet time. “My mom loved music, she loved sitting by the tree or enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.”
If you are looking to become active in the fight against Alzheimer's disease, this is an organization you should consider joining!
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