Holidays are a stressful time for anyone. But when someone has Alzheimer's disease or dementia, the interruption in normal routine and the flurry of activity can be particularly stressful. Agitation, fear and anxiety is often the result.
In addition, while scurrying about to complete usual holiday preparations, caregivers to people with Alzheimer's have the added stress of worrying about their loved one. Holidays – the time of year that is supposed to be full of celebration, laughter and good will – can turn into a season that your drains energy, increases stress and sucks the fun out of the holiday. But it doesn't have to be that way. Caregivers can, if not completely avoid, at least alleviate Alzheimer's and dementia-related problems.
Reduce holiday agitation for people with Alzheimer's
Christmas decorations and festivities often create changes in the environment and daily routine, which may cause someone with a cognitive or memory disorder to become agitated or confused. Some things to consider during the upcoming holidays:
- Your loved one can help you prepare for holidays, to whatever extent this condition will allow. Give safe and manageable activities. Keep the tasks at a level that will not overwhelm or confuse your loved one. Some examples include wrapping gifts (If the steps in wrapping confuse your parent, you could make this a team activity and gently assist them when needed), decorating the tree with you, singing holiday songs, setting the table or any other traditions your family may have.
- Maintain a normal routine as much as possible: eating at the same time, in the usual setting, keeping regular wake-up and bed-times.
- Keep decorations subtle. Trees with blinking lights can cause agitation and confusion by disorienting a person with Alzheimer's or dementia.
- Excessive, noise, commotion, loud crowds and rowdy children can cause confusion and agitation in your loved one.
- Decide on the number of people you and your loved one can handle and for how long. If you have a big family, you may want to divide visits up into several shifts during a specified time of the day or even different days. This will require good communication with family. Explain why this Christmas needs to be a little different. Let them know how things are going currently. Provide detail on your loved one's memory and what causes agitation and behavioral issues.
- Consider alternative holiday plans. If your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted living facility, plan on visiting in small groups, rather than large families at one time. Most nursing homes have staff with expertise in planning holiday activities that are calming and enjoyable for the patients. It may be less stressful for both you and your loved one if you join them in that planned celebration rather than to plan something on your own.
Maintain your regular routine for your loved one while trying to provide a pleasant, meaningful and calm holiday spirit for yourself and the rest of your family. Despite your best efforts, you still may feel increased guilt and frustration during the holiday season. These feelings are normal and other caregivers experience the same. When this happens, take a moment and remember only so much is within your control. Don't feel guilty if the holiday is not perfect and has a few bumps in the road. You can make the holiday season a good experience for everyone involved by adjusting what you typically expect from the holiday season. Prepare others, and handle situations as they arise with a good attitude and acceptance.