When someone in your family has dementia, or really any other chronic condition, it can affect what holiday time and family gatherings look like. There’s no magic solution, but we hope these tips and reminders might help make this holiday season a bit easier and merry as you balance the holidays as a caregiver.
1. Help your family and friends adjust their expectations
If some time has passed since visiting relatives or friends have seen the person who has dementia, there may have been significant changes in that person’s status since the last time friends or family last saw them. It is often very helpful if you update family, perhaps via a mass email or individual phone calls, on what kind of cognitive changes are going on and what they can expect when they arrive.
These changes can be hard for family members to accept. Remind them that changes in memory and behavior are a result of the disease, not the person. And suggest what they should do (or shouldn’t) when interacting with the person, if you feel it necessary. For example: “You may notice that ___’s memory has continued to decline, and as a result, his behavior may be a little unpredictable. Please know that even though he may forget names or people, he and I both appreciate your presence so much. He’s a bit quieter now, so loves to hear people tell stories—and as always he still enjoys having his hand held.”
2. Keep your family member with dementia involved
Depending on the person’s interests, find safe ways for them to participate in the holiday such as helping prepare food or bake for the celebratory meal, wrapping presents, making cards, or setting out decorations.
And absolutely involve them in ongoing traditions—these familiar activities can be comforting.
3. Be flexible – for their sake and your own
As a caregiver, you know what your care receiver—and you– can reasonably handle. Even if previous tradition dictates a large dinner party with 25 people, it’s okay to acknowledge this might not work this year because you need to work around the sundowning (or evening confusion) you know will happen for your person with dementia. Try a smaller gathering earlier in the day, or ask someone else to host so that you can do what’s best for you and your loved one (whatever that may be)!
4. And, as always, try to protect some time for yourself- care for the caregiver!
No one has to tell you the holidays are stressful, and especially so for caregivers. Some caregivers even get the holiday blues, as this time of year can bring about a special sense of loss and sadness. Please know you’re not alone. Find some time to care for yourself and let others support you during this time, whether that’s time alone, with a friend, or maybe even spent with a support group*.
*AGE has a monthly caregiver support group that meets the fourth Wednesday of every month, and it will be held THIS Wednesday at noon at The AGE Building (3710 Cedar St., Founder’s Room, Austin, TX 78705). Call 512-451-4611 for more details. Get your support in before Thanksgiving!