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Keeping Holidays Special While Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's

Posted on October 24, 2019

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease may change your holidays, but you can still have enjoyable and meaningful celebrations. Although Alzheimer's may make some holiday traditions challenging, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy connecting with friends and family during the holiday season. By communicating your limitations due to your caregiving responsibilities, being flexible, and adjusting your expectations, you can help make sure the holidays are happy and memorable.

Communicate Your Needs

Let your loved ones know that connecting with them over the holidays is as important as ever to you, but it's harder to plan because of your family member's behaviors like sundowning or distress when routines change. Difficult behaviors from your spouse or parent may put you under a great deal of stress. You need to consider your health as well.

  • Don't be afraid to say no.
  • It can help to use direct "I" statements. For instance, "I am not feeling well enough to host this year" is better than "Having everyone over is just too stressful." Communicating in this way makes your needs clear without making others feel accused or burdensome.
  • Even if you usually maintain healthy boundaries, the holidays are a time when they may be tested. If a friend or family member tries to make you feel guilty for setting your boundaries, gently remind them that your loved one's Alzheimer's doesn't take the holidays off, as much as you wish it did.

Be Flexible

Instead of saying "no," say "yes" to something else. If a family tradition no longer works for you since your spouse or parent developed Alzheimer's, it may be time to suggest an update.

  • If you can't travel as usual, consider offering to host. Ask others to bring potluck dishes and help clean up so you don't wind up overdoing it.
  • If you usually host the gathering but can't do it this year, encourage someone else to host instead. They may be delighted to welcome everyone to their home for a change.
  • If you always bring a beloved dish, pass the treasured recipe on to a loved one like you would a family heirloom, or shine the limelight on another chef in the family and invite them to bring their favorite dish.
  • If you would like to travel but don't think your spouse or parent with Alzheimer's can handle the trip, think about respite care. While it can be hard to leave your loved one for the holidays, remember that taking time away from caregiving responsibilities is important for your mental and emotional well-being. You can learn more about respite care and access resources through the Alzheimer's Association.

If you decide to host, take steps to make the holiday celebration as comfortable and enjoyable for everyone - including yourself - as possible.

  • Use paper plates, plastic flatware, and disposable tablecloths for easy cleanup. Plan a low-impact meal such as a stew that simmers all day in the crock pot with little prep work or tending.
  • Remind guests that your loved one may forget names or behave in unusual ways, and give examples. Make it clear that however your spouse or parent behaves, it is not personal, only a symptom of Alzheimer's.
  • Consider keeping a gathering small and simple to avoid confusing or frustrating your loved one. Have a quiet room and distractions (for instance a family photo album) ready in case your loved one becomes upset. Minimal decorations, or decorating gradually over time, may help your loved one more easily accept changes around the house.
  • For your loved one's safety, replace candles or a traditional menorah with flameless electric versions. Monitor flammable items at all times, and keep walkways clear of clutter. Read more tips from the National Institute on Aging for holiday preparations while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's.

If it's just not possible to get together in one place this year, consider using a video chat service such as Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime to have a special holiday call on a smartphone or laptop. During a video chat, you can:

  • Watch family open gifts
  • Have them show you the decorations around the house
  • Read a holiday story or poem to the children
  • Sing favorite holiday songs together

Adjust Your Expectations

Even without caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer's, holidays often come with high expectations [https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/holiday-stress-managing-expectations] that lead to disappointment and stress. Letting go of the illusion of a "perfect" holiday can help you keep expectations realistic and focus on what's most important about the holidays. For many people, that means connecting with loved ones, being thankful for what you have, and finding hope for the new year.

Here are some mindful tips from Johns Hopkins Medicine for adjusting holiday expectations:

  • Accept that your holidays won't be perfect and will be different from celebrations in years past.
  • Focus on what really counts. Find things to be grateful for and look for new ways to connect with loved ones.
  • If you get into a conflict with someone over the holidays, take a few breaths before you react. Try to stay compassionate and react with kindness.
  • As you reflect on last year, be kind to yourself and let go of any negativity. As you look forward to next year, make smaller, gradual resolutions rather than huge goals that will be difficult to achieve.

During the holidays and year-round, the members of myALZteam are here for each other. Joining myALZteam means gaining a support group of thousands of other caregivers who understand exactly what you're going through.

Here are some conversations from myALZteam members about navigating the holiday season while caregiving for someone with Alzheimer's:

Have you found ways to celebrate the holidays while caregiving? Share in the comments below or post on myALZteam.

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