Managing the holidays when a loved one has Alzheimer's

For anyone whose loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, the greatest gift of all is often the joy felt in creating a moment of happiness or comfort in that person’s life. However, planning for and creating those special moments during the holidays can be especially challenging.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a national organization that provides support and information about the disease, the person with Alzheimer’s may feel a special sense of loss during the holidays, as a result of the changes he or she has experienced. 

At the same time, caregivers may feel overwhelmed maintaining holiday traditions while caring for their loved one. In addition, caregivers may feel hesitant to invite family and friends over to share the holiday for fear they will be uncomfortable with behavior changes in the family member.

For the many families affected by this disease, here are some suggestions provided by the Alzheimer’s Association to help you prepare for the holidays:

Adjust expectations

  • Call a face-to-face meeting or arrange for a long-distance telephone conference call with family and friends to discuss holiday celebrations. Make sure that everyone understands your care-giving situation and have realistic expectations in advance.
  • Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. Consider having a potluck dinner or asking others to host the holiday at their home. 
  • Familiarize others with your situation by writing a letter prior to their visit informing them of changes in your loved one’s behavior or appearance, and include a recent photo. 
  • Encourage others to offer a gentle touch on the shoulder or hand as a way of expressing their affection to your loved one, even if the person does not call them by name or appear to recognize them.

Adapt gift-giving

  • Encourage people to buy useful gifts for the person such as an identification bracelet; comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing; audiotapes of favorite music; videos; and photo albums.
  • Advise people not to give gifts such as dangerous tools or instruments, utensils, challenging board games, complicated electronic equipment or pets.
  • Depending on his or her abilities, get the person involved in giving gifts. For example, someone who once enjoyed cooking may enjoy baking cookies and packing them in tins or boxes. Or, you may want to buy the gift and allow the person to wrap it. 
  • If friends or family members ask what you want for a gift, suggest a gift certificate or something that will help you out as you care for your loved one, like a cleaning or household chore service.

Try to be flexible

  • Holidays are opportunities to share time with the people you love. Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself and the person with Alzheimer’s disease so that you may concentrate on enjoying your time together.

For those who are traveling out-of-town to visit during the holidays, this is also a time that can raise questions about changes in the cognitive health of aging family members and friends.

With Alzheimer’s disease in particular, it is important to know what it is and what it is not normal aging. To find a list of warning signs, along with a wealth of information and resources regarding the disease, visit the Alzheimer’s website at www.alz.org.

Anyone with questions about Alzheimer’s disease may contact the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 toll-free helpline at 800-272-3900, where experts are available to help address your questions and concerns.  

Trained care consultants are also available through the Cleveland Area Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to provide ongoing guidance and support to individuals and families seeking information and resources about caring for their loved one and preparing for the future.

You may contact the local office, located at 38440 Chester Rd. in Avon, by calling 440-934-7750; or visit their website at www.alz.org/cleveland. 

Above all, remember that there are resources available to help you and your loved one through this journey.

Mary Lambert is Education & Outreach Manager for the Cleveland Area Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, and a resident of Bay Village. 

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Volume 3, Issue 25, Posted 2:51 PM, 12.13.2011