Find holiday joy despite dementia
By Pamela Knudson, Forum News Service
A time of festivities and celebration, the holidays pose special challenges for people with Alzheimer’s disease and those who are caring for them.
When planning family events, “focus on what is safe, manageable and meaningful to that person,” said Ashley Magner, regional care consultant with the Minnesota and North Dakota chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
“If you’ve always had Christmas at Grandma’s place, how do you change tradition?” she said. “You can make plans but change them if needed” in response to the needs of a person with Alzheimer’s.
Adjust expectations, and avoid taking on too much, she said. “It can wear on you and the person you care for.”
Don’t plan to include the person in a full day of activities, she cautioned. “Everything in moderation.”
She mentioned a caregiver who noticed their spouse would get antsy after 30 or 40 minutes, “looking around like she should be doing something,” because she was used to a strict schedule in her residential care facility.
“If the person you’re caring for doesn’t do well in large groups or is leery of crowds, stay away from them,” she said.
Magner recommended these tips for caregivers and others as the holidays approach:
•If you’re planning to visit a person with Alzheimer’s, limit the group to two or three people at a time; a larger group, in one visit, can be overwhelming and confusing.
•Inform others who don’t see the person regularly about predictable disabilities.
•At holiday events, stick to the person’s mealtime and sleeping routine as much as possible, no matter where you’re at.
•Appoint a “holiday partner” to look after the person’s needs.
•Designate a quiet place where the person can retreat to if things get hectic.
•If the person can no longer leave the care facility, consider celebrating there and bringing Christmas decorations in, as space allows.
•Watch for signs of physical or emotional stress.
“There’s a lot of grief at this time of year” for those dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, she said. People in the early stages of the disease, who realize they have it, may become more agitated or irritable or experience changes in eating and sleeping habits.
“If crying is excessive, or if anxiety makes the person more paranoid or suspicious, it may be worth bringing that up with the doctor,” Magner said.
Magner also advises caregivers take care of themselves, offering these suggestions:
•Ask for help.
•Shop for gifts online or through catalogs to limit your stress.
•Give yourself permission to say “no” to requests or invitations.
•Consider counseling or joining a support group.
For people coping with Alzheimer’s in their families, “things are different,” Magner said. “The holiday isn’t the same as it was, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad.”
For more information on Alzheimer's services in the area, call the Alzheimer's Association's 24/7 information helpline at 1-800-272-3900, or visit www.alz.org/mnnd.