Helping Loved Ones With Alzheimer’s Cope With the Holidays
The holidays are a perfect time to reconnect with loved ones, but for someone caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s, preparing for and hosting additional guests can put added strain on an already stressful situation. UT Health Austin neuropsychologist Robin Hilsabeck, PhD, who serves as the Director of UT Health Austin’s Comprehensive Memory Center within the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences, shares how caregivers can prepare someone with Alzheimer’s to receive company and how they may care for themselves as well.
How can you prepare an individual with Alzheimer’s for holiday guests or events?
You can start by letting them know that guests will be coming for Christmas time, Hanukkah, or for any celebration. Dr. Hilsabeck recommends that you show them some pictures to remind them of who will be visiting. She states that even if the pictures are older, the person may be able to remember better; recognizing a guest more easily from when they were kids. The key is to prepare your loved one for additional people in the home.
- As much as possible, include the person with Alzheimer’s in planning
- A week ahead of time, show them photos of who may be arriving
- Prepare quiet distractions, like a family photo album, in case the person with Alzheimer’s becomes upset or overstimulated
- Keep routines as close to normal as possible
- Make sure the person with Alzheimer’s receives plenty of rest
What tips would you suggest for family and friends who may be visiting someone with Alzheimer’s?
Remind friends and family that it may be busy and overstimulating for the person with Alzheimer’s. It’s always a good idea to plan the visit, maybe having guests visit at staggered times so it’s not so overwhelming. Remind your guests to introduce themselves and to expect that their loved one may not remember who they are. Dr. Hilsabeck says setting expectations is important for guests as well. A person with Alzheimer’s may repeat themselves and ask the same question. She says that’s normal for their condition and to just answer the question each time as if you’re hearing it for the first time.
- Prepare guests for unusual behaviors such as incontinence or eating with fingers
- Explain that memory loss is a result of the disease and not intentional forgetfulness
- Stress the importance of meaningfulness and making each moment together count
What can caregivers do to keep from getting too stressed during the holidays?
If you’re a caregiver, make sure take breaks and get the rest and sleep you need. No one person can do it all, caregivers shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help.
- Share caregiving with friends and family
- Take a walk, take a break
- Do something special for yourself
If you know someone who is a caregiver what can you do to help?
- Offer to help a few hours to allow the caregiver some time for self-care or to run personal errands
- If you are far away, get in touch and stay in touch – don’t underestimate the value of a supportive call or email
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