The holidays are always a stressful time of year. You have decorations to put up, family meals to consider, presents to buy, and, if you have a big family, there’s a good chance they will all be descending on your home at some point. All of this can be very stressful, but when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, the stress is intensified.
With that in mind, here are some tips for safely getting through the holidays when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related disorders.
Create a Safe Space
The home can become a busy and problematic place during the holidays. The decorations go up, the lights are installed, the Christmas tree becomes the focal point, and, if there are lots of grandkids to consider, presents begin to clutter every available space. To make sure you create a safe space, keep the following tips in mind:
- Rethink Decorations: Some decorations are okay. There may be grandchildren to think about, and you also want to create a friendly, welcoming, and fun home for any patients that are fond of Christmas and all the joys that go along with it. However, it’s important to tone them down a little
- Keep fast blinking lights to a minimum to avoid confusion and don’t litter the living space with tinsel, plastic reindeer, and anything else that can get in the way
- Eliminate Trip Hazards: Make sure there are no wires trailing across the floor and that there are no low-hanging decorations. The average American family home is a huge hazard for Alzheimer’s patients during Christmas, and if you’re used to putting up the same decorations every year, you may not realize just how much harm you’re doing
- Keep Risks Low: Candles, overloaded plugs, inedible fruits, and candy-colored decorations; all these things are commonplace during the holidays but are not advised when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. They could knock over those candles or eat the inedible decorations, while the plugs are a fire risk that needs to be monitored
- Play Music: One of the best ways to get into the spirit of the season without taking an unnecessary risk is to play some seasonal music. Turn the volume down low, create a relaxing atmosphere, and you have the perfect way to relax during the holiday season
Prioritize but Don’t Overprotect
The holidays can create a bit of a dilemma for Alzheimer’s caregivers. On the one hand, they want to create the safest and most problem-free experience for the patient. At the same time, though, they want to ensure that loved ones don’t feel left out.
In the end, many decide that the easiest option is to limit the number of people that visit the house, restrict the way that they interact, and keep the patient away from all cooking, wrapping, and decorating activities.
However, it’s often better to involve them, especially if they love the holidays and the meticulous processes involved. That said:
- Prepare Everything As a Family: Whether you’re baking cookies, pinning decorations, preparing Christmas trees or cooking Thanksgiving dinner, it’s important to bring everyone together, including the patient. The more the merrier, so bring them a little holiday cheer and remind them of all the great family times they had in the past
- Plan Activities: Get everyone around the fireplace for a story or to cook some marshmallows. Play a game, listen to some music, or just enjoy a quiet drink while you catch up. These are the moments that the holidays are for and they are best enjoyed by the whole family
- Keep Things Brief: While it’s important to stick to a typical holiday regime, including taking your loved one to meet family and friends, it’s also important to keep these visits brief. Make sure you have an easy escape plan if they become tired and/or confused
Avoid Overstimulation and Big Dietary Changes
Arrange events and activities that won’t overstimulate someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Stick with traditions and activities that they will like but try to make them a little less stimulating and tiring. For example, rather than arranging an activity to be performed by multiple family members all at once, invite smaller groups and encourage one-on-one activities when possible.
Additionally, avoid making too many dietary changes, as many seniors have sensitive digestive systems. If they’re used to a carefully prepared diet, one that keeps strong flavors and processed foods to a minimum, and you allow them to feast on fatty and sugary foods for several days, their digestion will struggle. It may be several days or even weeks before they fully recover.
You are the one responsible for those side effects and the one who has to deal with the consequences.
Celebrate at the Care Facility
Just because your loved one lives in an assisted living facility or nursing home doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the holidays with you. Arrange for a home visit or take the party to them. Get your friends and family together, grab some presents, and pay them a visit. It’ll provide a huge boost to their mood and mental health and will be good for their friends and family.
Don’t Forget About Your Own Health
In all the chaos of the holidays, it’s easy to let your health slide. You have a lot of things on your mind and your schedule and, because you’re so devoted to the care recipient and their loved ones, it’s easy to neglect your own needs.
Remember to make time for yourself. Give yourself a break every now and then, be realistic about the expectations of others, don’t be scared to disappoint them, and start delegating if you’re finding it hard to cope.
Other family members can assist with basic tasks, whether they’re cooking and cleaning or helping with basic travel requirements. Having just a couple less tasks to worry about and a few more hours to yourself can make a massive difference.