Happy Holidays! Many people find this season to be a time of joy. It’s also a time of stress. Even if your family could be compared to the Huxtables and Bradys, the holidays can be very trying. You are balancing expectations while making the dash to complete all your preparations, and trying to find time to reflect upon the meaning of the holiday. Are you hosting? Here comes the extended family. You may not have seen many of these people since the last holiday gathering. Wait? Are you also a caregiver of an adult who has dementia? Whoa boy. You have your hands full. How can we minimize the stress, and maximize the joy? Here are some ideas.
- Take care of yourself. Yes, we have all heard the platitudes about self-care. That doesn’t diminish its importance. Give yourself permission to say no to requests or activities that add too much to your plate. Look at those at commitments and obligations in the eye and tell them, “No, but thank you.” Since persons with dementia may pick up on the anxieties of others and become anxious as well, you may consider in-home respite care or day activity centers. Take a break. Ideally, you could also ask your family members for caregiving help.
- Give the family members a heads up on any changes in your loved one’s condition. You are a daily witness to the gradual decline of your loved one’s capabilities. You live it. But Cousin Sally, from Boise, or your brother residing in Albuquerque, aren’t as intimately familiar with the disease progression. It may shock them to see that Mom has lost weight. Her cognitive status has changed. She has memory loss. She has incontinence issues. This may be incongruent with the person they saw last holiday season. Giving these relatives an update on the current level of functioning may help them feel more comfortable around your loved one. This could provide them with an opportunity to offer thoughtful ideas or assistance and it might save you from snarky or cruel comments while heading off those not-so-helpful suggestions of changes to care.
- Control the visual and auditory hubbub to the extent possible. Excessive stimulation may cause anxiety and disorientation in persons with dementia. Keep the decorations simple and focus on happy memories and family traditions. A thousand points of light and the neon of Las Vegas can shine at someone else’s house unless, of course, it is part of your holiday traditions. Consider the holiday music playing in the background? Is it adding to the mood or is it dominating the airwaves of the room? Encourage family members to have one-to-one conversations with your loved one. Group conversations can be overwhelming, as several people are talking at the same time. Your family may need to know that it might take longer for Mom to answer questions. Allow her to lead the conversation topics. There is also a certain beauty in sitting together in companionable silence.
- Consider how to involve your loved one in the holiday preparations. Could they help with the holiday meal? Gauge your loved one’s abilities. Can they help with any kitchen tasks, such as setting the table? It would help your loved one to feel useful and a part of the celebration.
- It may be time to let go of some of the “things we used to do.” If this is a concern, consider letting some things go. If you get push back from any family members, suggest that they take the lead in preparing for the activity or meal item. Let Cousin Sue make the gingerbread house. What is important to your loved one? What is important to you? Let that be your guiding focus. Schedule activities that your loved one finds meaningful during the time of day in which the person with dementia feels at their best. Sometimes, persons with Alzheimer’s become more disoriented during the evenings. This is called “sundowning.” Mom may be a late sleeper. Maybe you don’t have to open presents first thing in the morning. Good luck with this strategy if children are involved, but the rest of the festivities can wait.
- Accept what you are feeling. There is a lot of pressure to feel festive during the holiday. Don’t be worried about yourself if you simply don’t feel the cheer. Find your joy in the small things such as a smile from a loved one, a joke overheard or the flickering light of a scented candle. If anyone calls you’re a grinch, hand them a broom so they can do something actually useful.
- Share in the cleanup time. Once the party is over, ask Uncle Bob to do the dishes. This is your time to sit back with a cup of herbal tea. Or a glass of wine. You deserve it.
How can a geriatric care manager help you during the holidays? Look to arrangeCARE for help and support with resources during the holidays, and afterward. Whether you are the visiting family member who thinks that the caregiver is becoming overwhelmed or you are the caregiver and have reached that conclusion yourself, arrangeCARE can meet with the person with dementia and their family members. Based on an assessment and the person’s preferences, an arrangeCARE Care Manager can design and implement a person-centered plan to help ensure that your loved ones’ need is met while they enjoy the optimal quality of life. We can’t do the dishes, but we can help alleviate the caregiver’s stress.
P.S. I ordered my family’s holiday meal from Whole Foods.