“It is not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing.”
– Mother Theresa
Holidays can be bittersweet for families affected by Alzheimer’s. It’s common to experience a sense of loss for the way things used to be and feel guilt about what we think we should do or how we think we should feel.
At a time when you believe you should be happy, you could instead find that stress, disappointment and sadness prevail. You might feel pressure to keep up family traditions when this is no longer realistic.
This is when it is time to adjust expectations and modify some traditions.
There are many websites that can help guide caregivers, but the most comprehensive is one from the Mayo Clinic staff. These tips are spot on. Visit mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers for more.
Make preparations together. If you bake, your loved one might be able to participate by stirring the batter or rolling dough. It does not have to be perfect. Consider opening holiday cards together. Concentrate on the “doing” rather than the result.
Tone down your decorations. Blinking lights and large decorative displays can cause disorientation. Avoid lighted candles and other safety hazards, as well as decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats.
Host quiet, slow-paced gatherings. Holiday gatherings often involve music and loud conversation. Yet for a person who has Alzheimer’s, a calm and quiet environment usually is best.
Keep a daily routine in place as much as possible and, as needed, provide your loved one a place to rest during family get-togethers.
Get some fresh air. If your loved one enjoys the outdoors, have a family member get outside with them – weathering permitting, of course.
Watch sugar intake. Too much sugar can drastically affect our behavior. Think how it affects someone with dementia.
Pick and choose. Decide which holiday activities and traditions are the most important, and focus on those you enjoy.
Prepare family members. Update them on your loved one’s status ahead of time so they know what to expect. You might even send them suggestions on activities to engage your loved one. Consider activities he or she enjoys such as drawing, puzzles, walking, looking at family photos or watching a movie. Or maybe just share a quiet moment.
Delegate. Remember family and friends who’ve offered their assistance. Take them up on it! Let them help with anything like grocery shopping, making a special dish for dinner, helping with your loved one so you can enjoy quiet time or maybe even attend a party.
As a caregiver, you know your loved one’s abilities best. You also know what’s most likely to agitate or upset him or her. Resist pressure to celebrate the way others might expect you to.
By planning and setting boundaries, you can avoid some holiday stress and enjoy the warmth of the season.
This might be a good time to attend caregiver support groups. Visit mymemorymatters.org or call 843-842-6688 for more information. We are here for you and your family.
Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. firstname.lastname@example.org; my memorymatters.org