The holiday season is upon us, and while this is a special time of the year focusing on family, good will, and traditions, this time of year may be especially stressful and overwhelming for people with dementia and their caregivers. For someone already caring for a person with dementia full time, the extra parties, family visits, and travel that was once all part of a holiday tradition may now be a stressful burden that can bring depression and anxiety. However, with preparation, flexibility, and an open mind, these important holiday gatherings and traditions can be preserved without turning into a stressful experience.
Remember these important tips when planning out your holiday festivities this year:
- Avoid afternoon and evening engagements. If your loved one experiences sundowning behavior in the afternoons and evenings, then evening parties and dinners may be too overwhelming and cause anxiety for a person with dementia. Know your loved one and his or her limits. Plan to have respite care in place, such as an in-home caregiver or a senior center, so your loved one is cared for while you enjoy the evening celebrations. Make a schedule with family and friends and take turns caring for your loved one, so that each person in the support system gets a chance to attend a holiday engagement.
- Avoid overstimulation. Even if evening engagements are avoided, crowded rooms, unfamiliar faces or places, loud music, and visual stimulation such as blinking holiday lights could cause sensory overload and lead to anxiety. Again, know your loved one and his or her limits. Try to stick to a routine as much as possible, including keeping the medication and sleep schedule on track, and taking walks, naps, or providing other quiet and relaxing activities in the midst of the gathering. Arrange with the party host to have a quiet room where your loved one can rest or be alone when over stimulated. Be prepared to take him or her home if necessary. Make sure guests are aware of your loved ones memory loss and coach them on proper interactions.
- Focus on tradition and memories. With dementia, a person’ long term memory is the strongest. Draw on that and embrace past traditions and memories. Look at photo albums, or create new ones. Watch favorite holiday movies. Sit together and listen to your loved one reminisce about holidays. Sing your favorite carols. Make favorite recipes together. Decorate your home for the holidays and invite your loved one to help you. Keep things simple so your loved one can be involved with each task.
- R & R. – You may feel that you do not have time for rest and relaxation during the holiday season, but it is crucial for your success during this time of the year. Schedule respite care for your loved one on a day where you have nothing planned. Then take a walk, go to the spa, go the park, to the library, or wherever you find peace. You can use respite care for your loved one to get your shopping done or to attend social engagements, but also include some “You Time.”
Treasure this holiday season with your loved one and be adaptable. The changes that you are experiencing this year are no one’s fault, and they are out of your control. Focus on the good memories and the things that you can still do together and the memories to be made this holiday season.
St. Paul’s Senior Services offers Alzheimer’s residential care homes San Diego at their senior communities including St. Paul’s Plaza (Memory Care), St. Paul’s PACE (Day Care) and the Senior Day Program. Health and Human services estimated that the San Diego Alzheimer’s population is over 60,000 elderly. At St. Paul’s Alzheimer’s residential care homes San Diego, we understand the holidays can be a tricky time for families who are coping. We are proud to offer an Alzheimer Group that is open to the public throughout the year. Please contact us to inquire about upcoming dates and times.