Holiday visits can be very stressful for someone struggling with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia. The Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has some ideas for caregivers who are hosting celebrations and for those traveling with a loved one who has dementia that may ease the stress for everyone involved.
Chapter Program Director Lesley Kennedy advises, "while traditions are important, making adjustments to reflect the new reality of caring for someone with dementia can go a long way in eliminating or reducing tension around what is typically a very stressful time."
Some simple steps could mean the difference between an enjoyable holiday time with family, and a situation that could easily spiral into an ugly scene:
•Adjust expectations - Make sure visitors are aware of the situation with your loved one and consider simplifying plans instead of hosting large-scale get-togethers.
•Build on the past - A loved one with dementia may find comfort in the familiar songs of family sing-alongs of holiday favorites.
•Take care with decorations - Avoid using candles, artificial fruits or vegetables, and consider changing blinking lights to static ones to avoid confusing your loved one with dementia.
•Keep routines - Mealtimes, medication schedules and bed times should be adhered to, whenever possible.
•Control over-indulgence - Rich holiday food should be served in moderation and alcohol should be avoided.
•Take time for yourself - Caregivers need to take advantage offers of help to they can re-charge their own batteries.
If you plan to visit a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, keep in mind:
•Unannounced drop-in visits are not a good idea. Call ahead before you visit and try to be flexible. The unpredictable behaviors of some people with Alzheimer's disease may make last minute changes unavoidable.
•Don't use a "third party" to speak with the person with Alzheimer's disease. Speak directly to them and make sure they are within earshot.
•Keep your visit short and quite, and try to limit the number of people who are visiting at one time.
•Acknowledge the caregiver. They would probably welcome a note or other gesture that indicates, "I care and I am thinking of you."
•Stay in touch with the caregiver. The holidays may be over, but the challenges of dementia caregiving never end, and a phone call or scheduled visit may be just what they need to reconnect, stay focused and take some "me" time.
Additionally, unexpected behaviors brought on by stress can be addressed at any time during the holidays. "Our experts can be reached 24/7 every single day, to provide confidential advice for caregivers who may feel overwhelmed or just don't know what to do," Kennedy said.
The "Helpline" phone number is 1-800-272-3900.
The Alzheimer's Association, WNY Chapter, provides a number of programs and resources to help the estimated 55,000 residents of the eight-county chapter territory who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or related dementia, and their estimated 165,000 caregivers. Those resources include care consultations, educational classes, respite programs and support groups across Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties. For more information, visit alz.org/wny or call 1-800-272-3900.