Caregiving for Dementia: Holidays and Other Celebrations

HOLIDAYS, CELEBRATIONS, AND DEMENTIA : A Juggling Act

The holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is filled with opportunities for gatherings with family and friends; celebratory meals, often with traditional family or cultural foods; decorations of many varieties; music; religious observances; all of which contribute to additional demands on our time. In fact, the suggestions I am about to offer can apply to any celebrations, family gatherings, or other social gatherings.

Time is one aspect in the life of a caregiver for an individual with Alzheimer’s Disease that is as precious as gold and almost always in short supply. So, how does a caregiver go about taking advantage of even a few opportunities for enjoyment during the winter holiday season, or any celebration time for that matter? Doing so takes some planning ahead to be sure.

First of all, caregivers must be bold enough to ask for help. Honest conversation is important in the effort to help others not so closely involved with caregiving to understand the toll that caregiving can take on a single individual’s health and wellbeing. If other family members live nearby and are capable of giving some time to look after the care recipient so the primary caregiver can get some respite, a caregiver should feel empowered to ask them. As an alternative, if other family members are unable or too busy, perhaps with some firm encouragement they could be persuaded to chip in some cash to pay an agency to provide a companion in order that the primary caregiver can set aside caregiving responsibilities, do a little shopping if they like, or even just go out for coffee and dessert with friends for some down time. Close friends can also be a good resource for caregiver respite. However it can be safely managed for the care recipient, the caregiver must have some “me” time.

Another aspect to consider during holidays that include decorations and other significant changes in the usual appearance of the care recipient’s environment. Caregivers may want to think about paring down some of the decorations as they can be distracting and may even be disturbing to an individual whose perceptions of the world around them is inaccurate. Using a few well-loved items that could be conversation or reminiscence starters will serve to prevent the environment from being over stimulating and also remove the additional work of decorating from the already full plate of the caregiver.

Part and parcel of holidays and other celebrations is the presence of more people in the care recipient’s environment or quite possibly more frequent times when the care recipient is out of the usual environment and visiting along with the caregiver in a different location. At some point in the progression of memory disorders, the time comes when the care recipient may become more confused or disoriented than usual by the increased hustle and bustle that can be associated with celebrations. Each caregiver should assess the level of tolerance the care recipient has for changes in routine and environment coupled with increased stimulation. Judiciously choosing which events and activities most likely to evoke pleasure in the care recipient (religious traditions, long loved music, family traditions are all things to consider here) and setting aside the ones not so critical will offer opportunities for engagement in family and community without inviting the potential for distress resulting from over stimulation.

And, Caregivers please remember, as I mentioned earlier in this blog, time to yourself is important so do something, attend an event or just coffee with a friend, time that is just for you.