December 2, 2004
The activity and festivities of the holiday season pose special challenges for families coping with Alzheimer's disease. The hurried pace can be trying at times for just about anyone, but for someone coping with Alzheimer's disease, the change in routine can be especially disruptive. That's why it's important to take steps at holiday time to minimize disruptions and simplify the celebration.
A few steps can help to assure that anyone with Alzheimer's, and those who care for and love them, can have a safe and joyous holiday season.
- Simplify. The change in routine of the holiday season can be disconcerting and upsetting. A tree with blinking lights and loud singing, music, or a football game on the TV can be disorienting for someone with memory loss and confusion. Rethink your holiday traditions, and simplify. Pick and choose those traditions that are most important to you. Simplify the decorations, and avoid flashy lights and raucous noise. For safety's sake, avoid candles and artificial fruits, which may be mistaken for the real thing.
- Engage the person with Alzheimer's but keep things at their usual pace. Someone with Alzheimer's might enjoy simple holiday tasks, such as decorating cookies or putting ornaments on the tree. Or, singing holiday songs and reading a beloved scripture or story at home may be a meaningful alternative to visiting a place of worship. Do not, however, force the person with Alzheimer's to participate if they resist. Stick to the same daily routine and schedule as much as possible.
- If a loved one with Alzheimer's lives in a nursing home or assisted-living facility, test the waters by bringing him or her home for a short visit beforehand. For many with Alzheimer's, being removed from familiar surroundings can be disorienting and upsetting. Even being around family members a person doesn't see often can make someone with dementia anxious or fearful. If a home visit seems too stressful, arrange for visits by small groups to the nursing home to minimize confusion and upset.
- Apprise family members and relatives who are coming from out of town about the status of a parent, sibling, or loved one with Alzheimer's ahead of time. That way, everyone will be better prepared during family gatherings.
- Delegate. Let family members and friends help with the chores, like writing cards, baking, or shopping for gifts. Let others watch a loved one while you take in a show or other holiday event.
- Rethink the presents. Someone caring for a person with Alzheimer's might enjoy a gift certificate for a day spa or massage, or an offer to fill in and provide a few hours of caregiving respite. For someone with Alzheimer's, a photo album might be far more meaningful than, say, a new sweater. Other gift ideas: A family heirloom; a "Safe Return" bracelet, worn in case an Alzheimer's patient wanders off; or a donation to an appropriate organization.
With some preparation and simple planning, the holidays can be a joyous occasion for all.