DISCLAIMER: Because COVID-19 has changed the scenario in many assisted living facilities, some of these tips will need to be modified.
The calendar reminds us how deep we are into the holiday season. Our waistlines expand while the stresses of family dynamics emotionally stretch us.
As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful — we also need to remember how stressful this time can be for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.
How can we best help our loved ones survive the holidays? How can caregivers find some joy during this stressful time?
Trim the Food Responsibilities. One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe. She wanted to feel part of the festivities but even finding pots and pans proved to be difficult.
As we watched her struggle, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad — hundreds of times — we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.
Even if your loved one has a favorite recipe, relieve her of the stress of making it. Give her a simple task and make it together.
Plan Ahead for Shopping. Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to get 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 many 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 Favorite Foods. Even though her appetite has changed, Mom still wants pecan pie. One of my holiday duties includes buying a pecan pie for Mom. I recommend the frozen variety. No fuss.
When we walk into the farm kitchen, Mom always eyes 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 whipped topping.
Every year, Mom replies, “I DO love pecan pie.” Someday even this sentiment will disappear. Enjoy blessing your loved ones with their favorite foods.
Plan an Activity Together. Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those forgotten traditions, my mother’s demographic still considers 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. This repetition is part of the Alzheimer’s process. Someday you’ll be glad you took the time to do this simple task.
Be Careful About Timing. If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, check back in before dark. 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 time your meals and activities accordingly.
Travel is NOT for Everyone. Although we all want to be together during the holidays, travel out of the comfort zones is difficult for the Alzheimer’s patient: 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.
Take a break and be with your family.
Gift-giving. None of us needs more stuff, least of all — the Alzheimer’s patient. Keep the gift-giving simple.
Try these suggestions: a stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a picture of family members with their childhood photos inserted next to the adult photo, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.
Be aware that some gifts may disappear. Mom constantly loses things. Last year, I bought her new sheets for her bed. Then I put them on for her. No chance to lose them.
One gift that always works is spending time with your loved one, a hug and a kiss, a “Merry Christmas. I love you.”
Do it while you can.
©2020 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved
For a more substantial list of helpful tips, check out Holiday Tips for Caregivers, available on Amazon and Kindle.