How can we help the Alzheimer’s loved one survive the holidays?
As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful for another year – we also have to remember how stressful this time can be – especially for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.
These seven tips can help as we move into the holidays:
Don’t expect a dementia or Alzheimer’s loved one to make any food.
One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe so she would feel like she was part of the festivities.
But as we watched her struggle to find pots and pans, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad – hundreds of times over – we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.
Even if she has a favorite recipe and everyone still enjoys her marshmallow salad or her pecan pie, relieving her of the stress can be a gift.
If your loved one wants to shop for gifts, plan ahead for this adventure.
Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to move in and out of the stores. Forget about Black Friday shopping – too many people, too much noise and parking places are limited.
Be patient, take plenty of time and be prepared to answer lots of questions. If possible, buy everything in one store. Then go home.
Better yet, sit down with a laptop and show your loved one the pictures. Then order everything online.
Include some of your loved ones’ favorite foods.
Even though her appetite is changing, Mom will crave a piece of pecan pie. So one of my holiday duties is to buy a pre-made pecan pie. I recommend the pies in the frozen section at Target.
When we first walk into the farm kitchen, Mom’s eyes always go to the dessert table. She may not say anything, but I know what she’s looking for. “I brought your pecan pie, Mom, and the first piece goes to you.” Then I dress it with a generous dollop of Cool Whip.
Every year, Mom says, “I DO love pecan pie.” I dread the day when she forgets how to say this one, grateful sentence.
Plan an activity together, such as looking through Christmas cards.
Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those traditions celebrated in the past, my mother’s demographic considered it a holiday courtesy. She loves receiving her cards.
Remind your loved one who the senders are or tell a favorite story about the person behind the return address.
Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. That’s okay. It’s part of the Alzheimer’s process, and someday – you’ll be glad you did this activity together.
If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, be sure to check back in before dark.
Driving through beautifully-lit neighborhoods was once a favorite activity. But this idea depends on the stage of Alzheimer’s where your loved one exists.
Mom feels uncomfortable in the dark. Looking at the lights is no longer one of our seasonal pleasures.
As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowner’s Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety. They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so make sure you time your meals and your activities accordingly.
If you are traveling for the holidays, it is not a good idea to include your Alzheimer’s loved one.
Although we all want to be together during the holidays, that pleasure becomes less and less tangible. Traveling out of their comfort zones is difficult for Alzheimer’s patients: several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.
It makes more sense to hire a caregiver and let your loved one stay home while you join the rest of the family.
Avoid the false guilt that says you cannot leave for a day or two. Yes, you can. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to make it through the marathon of caregiving. So take a break and spend time with your family.
What should you buy the Alzheimer’s patient?
None of us needs more junk, least of all an Alzheimer’s patient living in a studio apartment at assisted living. Keep it simple.
Try these suggestions: a stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a photo of family members with their childhood pictures inserted next to the adult photos, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.
One Christmas, I gave Mom a wooden cross, made in New Mexico, and a bag of her favorite Lifesaver™ mints. She seemed most excited about the mints although the cross is a nice adornment on her wall.
This year I’m giving Mom a hug and a kiss – if she lets me. She no longer knows who I am. Receiving affection from a “stranger” can feel scary for an Alzheimer’s patient. So I may just hold her hand and say, “Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you.”
©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved
If you need some extra help with caregiving during the holidays, check out my book, “Sometimes They Forget.”