It's okay to vary from tradition to make your loved one with Alzheimer's disease more comfortableAs a family member of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the holidays can be challenging. It can be painful for relatives to who don’t often see their parent or grandparent to understand how their illness has progressed and to cope with her lack of memory of events and people. However, some planning and preparation can make your holiday family time enjoyable and memorable.

1. Inform Your Guests Ahead of Time

In the early stages, family and friends may not notice much of a difference in Grandma’s behavior or memory. If her disease is in a later stage, however, it’s important to let out-of-towners know what to expect. A phone call or email explaining the changes and a reminder that it’s due to the disease, not the person, can help tremendously in accepting these changes.

2. Set Expectations

Not only do guests need to know about the current situation that Grandma is in, but they need to understand your caregiving situation and have realistic expectations about what you can and can’t do. Be forward and honest about limitations, needs, daily routines, etc.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Give yourself realistic expectations as well. Just because you have always invited the entire extended family plus the neighborhood, that doesn’t mean you have to this year. Consider having a smaller gathering, simplify the meal plan, or invite others to contribute. This takes some of the pressure off of you and the anxiety and stress off of your loved one.

4. Vary from Tradition (Just a Little)

For many people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, evening can cause confusion and agitation. If this is the case, try to plan the celebration earlier in the day. If the main meal will be at night, keep the room well lit and try to avoid known triggers.

5. Prepare Your Loved One

If your loved one won’t remember the guests when they arrive, help them prepare at least a week in advance. Show them pictures of the guests, describe their relationship and talk about them. Spend some time each day familiarizing your loved one with guests family so they aren’t as confused when they arrive.

6. Build on the Past

Focus on activities that are meaningful for your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Looking through old photo albums, sharing stories about growing up, or playing/singing old music favorites can bring back younger, healthier days and memories that had been suppressed.

7. Involve Your Loved One in Preparation

As the person is able, involve them in cooking, decorating, setting the table, or other holiday preparations. Even setting them up to watch you will help familiarize them with the upcoming festivities. Being able to help will give them the pleasure of participating and the exciting anticipation of what’s coming.

8. Set up a Specified Quiet Place/Activity

One of the biggest concerns about the noise and distractions of the holidays is over-stimulating your loved one. Make a safe, quiet place (such as a bedroom or closed living room or office) they go to when it becomes to much, or plan quiet activities they can do, such as looking through a family photo album, putting on some headphones with soothing music or cracking nuts. This can be helpful right after a meal when your loved one has indulged in rich or special food or drink, especially alcohol.

Depending on your situation, It may even be better to keep Grandma in a room away from the main gathering place and have only a few guests in the room with her at any given time. Then she will likely be less stressed and confused come mealtime.

9. Maintain Routine

Sticking to your loved one’s usual routine helps reduce stress and confusion for them. It may not be possible to stay with the routine exactly, but the closer you can get the better. Also plan plenty of time for breaks and rest.

10. Plan Time for Yourself Afterwards

As enjoyable as it is to see friends and relatives, it can leave you feeling exhausting and burnt out. Consider asking a close friend or family member to care for your loved one for a day or two to give you a break and decompress. You can also hire someone to come in for a few hours to help you out and give you some free time. You deserve it!

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia during the holidays requires extra planning and longer preparation but your loved one and out-of-town family will greatly appreciate it. Just don’t forget that you don’t have to do it all by yourself and to take care of your energy and health. Have a Happy Holidays!!!!