Caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or dementia is highly stressful, and getting through the holiday season can be particularly difficult.
It is most likely that the holidays will take on a different look this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, which may be stressful in and of itself. Relatives may opt out of traveling to loved ones’ homes and families may consider smaller celebrations.
Virtual holiday gatherings are now being promoted so families can communicate through that platform and stay safe and healthy through the process.
Whatever is planned for the holiday, caregivers should stay within the CDC recommendations, making sure their loved ones are not put in an environment that could put them at risk for the coronavirus.
If gatherings are planned, be aware that too much external stimulation, whether it's from visitors or activities, can lead to physical and/or emotional exhaustion.
The key to maintaining a sense of balance during this time includes giving caregivers some respite by soliciting assistance from family and friends.
Though sometimes difficult during the holidays, keeping a structured routine eases anxiety, reduces boredom and promotes a greater sense of well-being for someone with the disease.
Involving all the senses in activities stimulates the affected individual physically and emotionally and gives him or her a sense of connection and purpose. Decorating for Thanksgiving and later for Christmas, baking traditional recipes, assisting with meal preparation and cleanup are all ways to include someone with Alzheimer’s in holiday celebrations.
Tangible things like photo albums or scrapbooks should be on hand to engage and distract the affected individual when he or she is getting anxious. Play favorite tunes he or she enjoys. Use aromatherapy for a calm environment.
Caregivers can enlist the help of their loved ones with signing holiday greeting cards and/or having their loved one put stamps on the envelopes. And, during this time of year of indulgent foods, a good balance between nutrition and physical activities is recommended. A daily walk, weather permitting, does wonders as a stress buster and helps with movement and well-being.
The Thanksgiving and Christmas season can be an enjoyable, enriching time for caregivers, their loved ones and friends and family. Caregivers can prepare relatives and friends ahead of time regarding their loved ones’ changes in appearance, memory, particular stressors, or behaviors, and encourage their visits, though not all at one time.
It is good to adapt old family traditions so that everyone can be comfortable and at ease — keeping that sense of family identity and belonging. Holding fast to that joy in the present moment and letting go of perfections and high expectations are the keys to maintaining a healthy and happy balance during the holiday season.