Planning ahead will help make the holidays easier.
Don't lose your mind! I've got holiday survival tips for caregivers right here! The holiday season can be an especially challenging time for families living with Alzheimer's or dementia. Many people are looking forward to spending time with family and friends and these tips are to help you do the same. I've curated the best of what I found online with my experiences with my Mom.
In the early stage, a person with Alzheimer's may experience minor changes. Some may be less comfortable socializing because the disease makes it a challenge. Others may be thrilled with visits from family and friends like previous holidays. The key is to check in with each other and discuss options. A simple "how are you doing" or "how are you coping with everything" may be appreciated. Plan holiday celebrations that focus on the things that bring them happiness. Let go of activities that are overwhelming or stressful.
For people in the middle stages consider readjusting holiday plans. I know my Dad did his best to mimic how my Mom went about the holidays. He'd buy gifts online, make a note with our names and a photo of the gift they bought. This helped Mom visually but I think she always felt that she hadn't done what she needed to do. Looking back I think it might have been better to take her shopping and allow her to feel the experience. She used to do separate shopping trips for each person so her memories were of many trips to the mall. Even a short shopping trip with the same photo note he made might have bridged the gap for her. It's easy to see that in hindsight of course. At the time what he did made perfect sense to all of us.
Prepare Family & Friends
Preparing family and friends with an honest update of the person's changes in behavior and memory can help avoid unpleasant situations. The holidays are full of emotions and we don't want to add negative ones into what should be a happy time. If your loved one is in the early stages of their disease others may not notice any changes. However, the person with dementia may have trouble keeping up with conversations, repeat themselves or simply keep quiet.
Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting and giving them time to finish their thought. Remind family and friends that talking to the person living with dementia will take extra patience and time. The goal is to maintain a positive and upbeat mood. The best way to accomplish this is by not arguing, correcting or asking if they remember. Don't try to force memories that may no longer be there.
For family or friends you haven't seen in quite awhile it may be easier to send an email detailing the status of your loved one. It also erases the need to make these statements over and over to each new group. That's stressful in itself!
One email wording I found is simple and to the point. "I'm writing to let you know how things are going at our house. While we're looking forward to your visit, we thought it might be helpful you understood our current situation before you arrive." If possible, enclose a photo so they're not shocked by any physical changes. It's also not unfair to your loved one to let others know they may or may not be remembered. Letting visitors know what to expect ahead of time will hopefully allow everyone to avoid awkward situations.
When your loved one gets in that frustrating loop of repeating the same question or story some redirection may help everyone. Share these redirection tips with guests.
The first step is actually to determine if there's a reason for the behavior. This applies more to a behavioral change like aggression or combativeness. Thankfully, I've never had to deal with these types of behaviors with Mom but if you do, here's how to handle it.