Top Five Holiday Tips for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

The holidays can be especially tough for the Alzheimer’s caregiver. The person with Alzheimer’s might have a difficult time with schedule changes, visits and event and the caregiver may feel sad about missed opportunities to take part in holiday traditions. The holidays can bring up grief feelings for the Alzheimer’s caregiver and can also be a time when resentments arise between various family members and the Alzheimer’s caregiver. Here are five tips and some resources to help the Alzheimer’s caregiver survive (and enjoy!) the holidays:

  1. Try to maintain routine as much as possible. You can incorporate holiday traditions, visits from friends and loved ones and holiday fun while sticking to the important aspects of your care routine. Keep sleeping and meal times on track to maintain the pattern of the day. Ask visitors to be respectful of this and understand the impacts on your loved one and you. Know that for people who don’t understand Alzheimer’s disease, they may not realize how simple things can be a real challenge for you as an Alzheimer’s caregiver. At the same time, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holidays…it’s just about timing and keeping commitments reasonable.
  2. Find the joy in small things (for both you and your caree). Even someone with a very limited memory will often recall songs and tastes of the holidays. Music is surprisingly embedded in the memory and can be a soothing activity. This is a nice way to enjoy the holidays, whether a specific memory of the song is there or not. You and your loved one can also enjoy holiday foods, but you may be too overwhelmed to make a large meal or bake. Consider ordering food or hiring a home caregiver to come in and help with holiday cooking. You don’t need to decorate extensively or go out to holiday parties to enjoy a festive atmosphere. Put up a few decorations you and your loved one can enjoy, listen to some holiday music, watch a holiday movie and enjoy!
  3. Be realistic about travel plans. Read our “Travel and Dementia: Know Before You Go” article if you are considering travel over the holidays (you might also like “Tips for a Smooth Journey with an Elder“). The holidays can be the most hectic time for travel so it might be best avoided for the sake of the person with Alzheimer’s and the Alzheimer’s caregiver. Plan shorter trips at less busy times and use technology to connect…plan a Skype/Facetime session with other family members, for example.
  4. Reset expectations, both yours and those of others. Obviously the holidays with your loved one will not be the same as they once were. It is natural to grieve (and you may be grieving not only the losses related to the dementia but the actual loss of other elder loved ones). Reach out to talk to someone about how you are feeling. Have a talk with loved ones or others coming to visit so they know what to expect. Also, if possible, avoid confrontational or difficult conversations during the holidays. Save those for other times (this goes along with our general holiday advice for caregivers…read more).
  5. Seek concrete support. People often want to do something to help, but don’t know what to do. Ask for something specific. If possible, ask for someone to relieve you so that you can take an afternoon to do holiday shopping or just take a break. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, ask for help with tasks. Very often, it is easy for someone to pick you up some items when they’re out shopping or make some extra food for you and your loved one. Maybe you have busy sisters and brothers who would be glad to pitch in to hire a cleaning person or home caregiver to do some errands or assist during the holidays (or once/week on a regular basis). We know it’s not easy to ask for help, but often people are just waiting to know how to help you.

We hope these tips help you survive and thrive this holiday season as an Alzheimer’s caregiver. Unfortunately, the realities of caregiving and health problems do not go away for Christmas or other holidays. Don’t forget, our EasyLiving/Aging Wisely team is always here to help! There’s nothing worse than facing a crisis alone. Call us any time at 727-447-5845 for crisis management, geriatric assessments, home care support, respite care and more.