Alzheimer's blog

Alzheimer's and the holidays: Find real joy by simplifying

By Angela Lunde December 8, 2009

It's the holiday season and if you're like many who are caring for a loved one with dementia, the season may not feel so merry.

Memories of better times may surface as reminders of what you've lost or what has changed. Often it's a time when you believe you should be happy, yet increased stress, disappointment, and sadness are the prevailing emotions.

At the same time, you may think that you should live up to expectations of family traditions and how things ought to be. As a caregiver, it isn't realistic to think that you will have the time or the energy to participate in all of the holiday activities as you once did.

And for the person with dementia, the holidays can disrupt the sanctuary of the calm and structured routine that suits them best. I have two general themes for caregivers and families to follow during the holidays:

  • Adjust your expectations.
  • Simplify the season.

Pick and choose which traditions are most important to you and which you can live without. Think about ways you can modify traditions that will still provide meaning to you and your family. Here are some ideas:

  • Attend church services that will be less crowded or create a quiet ceremony at home that includes traditional readings, stories and hymns.
  • Minimize holiday baking.
  • Think about alternatives to writing and sending out lots of holiday cards.
  • Simplify decorating, which is not only time consuming but can be confusing (blinking lights) and sometimes unsafe (wires, cords, candles) for the person with dementia. Instead, you might plan on outing to look at holiday lights and decorations.
  • Think about holiday shopping with your loved one during evenings and weekends or opt for respite care for your loved one while you shop (maybe avoid stores all together).
  • Also, recognize that the person with dementia may feel the discomfort of not knowing all family and friends and feel overwhelmed by the increased pressure and stimulation. Consider more intimate gatherings spread out over several days versus a large family get-together.

By adjusting your expectations and modifying some traditions you just might find the real joy in the season comes from simply being and reminiscing with the ones we love.

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Dec. 08, 2009