The holidays can be tough with any family, but for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, they can be especially difficult.
Here are some tips for caregivers to help things run more smoothly so you and your family are able to enjoy the holidays:
1. Adjust your expectations of yourself, the caregiver. Only agree to take on what you can reasonably manage, and ask for help. Holidays often come with traditions and expectations from family members, but try to ask for people to be flexible. Perhaps you can ask someone else to host the holiday gathering this year.
2. Let family and friends know what to expect if they haven’t seen the person with dementia in a few months or a year.
3. If a holiday gathering is large, assign a friend or relative (or two) to be a “buddy” to the person with dementia. The buddies can take turns guiding the person with dementia through what is expected at the gathering and making sure the person with dementia’s needs are being met.
4. Try to schedule only one activity or outing a day and allow the person to rest either before or after the event. If you have an especially busy day, plan for the next day to be one of rest and relaxation for both the person with dementia and you.
5. Involve the person with the diagnosis in tasks that they can succeed in. Maybe he or she can no longer prepare the entire meal, but perhaps the person can rinse the vegetables, set the table or clean silverware and still feel included in the preparation.
6. Take time for yourself. If you have a holiday tradition that is important to you, such as attending the Nutcracker with your grandchildren, arrange for home care, so you can continue to do this tradition and have time for yourself.
7. Finger foods are great for everyone, especially persons with dementia. Have snacks on hand for the person with dementia, even if a big dinner is being planned, so he or she does not have to wait a long time for dinner to be ready.
8. Consider having a holiday-themed, structured activity prepared that the person with dementia can do with children or other adults (stringing popcorn, painting holiday decorations, making a collage) so that the person does not have to rely on making conversation.
9. During a holiday get together, it can be helpful for the person with dementia if everyone wears a name tag. This way there is no pressure for the person to remember everyone’s names. Make them colorful and fun so everyone wants to wear them!
10. Since the person with dementia’s memory and conversation skills could be limited, try not to ask too many questions of him or her, especially those that begin with, “Do you remember…?”
11. When conversing with the person with dementia, discuss what is going on in the room in that moment or make statements such as “It is so nice to see you”; “I like what you are wearing”; “Can I get you something to eat?”
12. Ask family members to bring old photo albums that the person with dementia might like to look through. Tell him or her who is in the pictures.
13. Create a quiet space that the person with dementia can retreat to if the gathering becomes over stimulating.
14. If you are the caregiver and the host, consider making the get together potluck so that you are not pressured to do it all.
15. It is common to experience more sadness, loss and feeling alone at this time of year. Attending a support group or seeing a counselor can be very helpful. Call the 24-hour Helpline at 800-272-3900 to find out more about these resources or if you need help. We are here 24/7, 365 days a year, even on holidays