The holidays are particularly special for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. It reminds all of us to count our present blessings as we gently let go of the past. We focus on what we can still do as opposed to what we cannot do. Holidays are chock full of memories, deeply rooted memories which are awakened with music from a bygone era, old movies and beautiful decorations which are saved from year to year. Rituals provide comfort, continuity and structure. Take photos of the special moments to immortalize them.
To enjoy the holidays here are some strategies to minimize hidden stressors:
- If a loved one with Alzheimer’s is in the early stages, by all means attend or make a big party. On the other hand for someone in the later stages, a big party or leaving the house is an enormous stressor. Keep it small, simple and short in his or her home. Stick to the familiar routine
- If your loved one is in a nursing home, it usually works out for the best to visit him or her there. Don’t feel guilty because in this setting there is greater comfort for the patient. Many patients are afraid to leave even if it is a home they once knew. Bring a gift, food, decorations, etc. to spread some cheer not only for your loved one, but for other patients who might not have visitors.
- At home resist the temptation to dress up as Santa or move furniture around. This will unnerve Alzheimer’s patients in mid-late stages. Keep children’s visits short and only a few at a time. Pay attention to the patient, not the visitors, because Alzheimer’s patients tend to wander away.
- Sing! Singing will relieve your personal stress and grief as well as that of the patient. Even in the late stages, Alzheimer’s patients who have stopped speaking will amazingly sing every word of an old familiar song. Singing is better than listening to music when it concerns reducing stress. Singing together is even better because there is synergy in group singing.
- Serve delicious ritual holiday foods. The aroma will awaken some locked away memories and evoke feelings of happiness.
- Embrace the patient and the holiday – happiness is contagious.
- Get up and move with the patient – dance a few simple steps, take a walk, do a little exercise together to shed stress.
- Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s patients tend to sundown – get irritable and agitated after dark. Party during the day!
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show