The Best Holiday Stress-Busting Tips for Alzheimer’s Patients and Families
Tips to make the holidays more enjoyable for your loved one with Alzheimer’s. (And tips for taking care of yourself too!)
The holiday season brings people and families together, and stress and frustration can tag along. Those feelings are often heightened when you have a family member living with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or other forms of dementia.
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But you can smoothly navigate the holidays with these family members, says neuropsychologist Aaron Bonner-Jackson, PhD. The key, he says, is ensuring he or she doesn’t get overstimulated.
“It’s easy for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease to get overwhelmed,” Dr. Bonner-Jackson says. “Don’t overwhelm them with too many crowds or visits. Don’t pack in too much. If there are too many people around, they’re likely to get tired out.”
No two people with AD respond alike to social gatherings, including the ways they show when they’ve reached their limit, Dr. Bonner-Jackson says.
“Some will get irritable and may lash out or seem angry,” he says. “Others will withdraw, stop talking, and really seem to go into themselves. Or, they may start to exhibit some unusual behaviors.”
In these cases, he suggests these actions:
Sometimes, managing events or redirecting your family member isn’t enough. If he wanders off, starts to hallucinate, or starts doing things that could endanger himself or others, it’s time to seek professional medical help, Dr. Bonner-Jackson says.
“If things are causing your family member so much discomfort and bringing on so much distress that nothing can be done, you should seek outside assistance,” he says. “It’s relatively rare, but there are times when their behavior or confusion gets so severe that it necessitates a trip to the emergency room.”
Tell your guests what to expect from your family member with AD before your holiday event, Dr. Bonner-Jackson says. He suggests sending an e-mail beforehand, describing the extent of your family member’s memory loss, whether he or she forgets names, and any common behaviors.
Remind your guests not to quiz your family member. It’s a misconception that doing so is good for the brain. Instead, it can feel like an interrogation and increase your family member’s stress. Also, ask that they try to answer repeated questions calmly despite how many times they’re asked.
Avoid engaging your family member with AD in fast-paced conversation during the holidays. Instead, opt for quieter, slower-paced talks, Dr. Bonner-Jackson says.
You can focus on these areas to help your loved one:
The holidays often stress out primary caregivers for individuals with AD more than usual, Dr. Bonner-Jackson says.
“It’s important to remember to give yourself breaks,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to practice self-care and ask someone else to be responsible for your family member for a few hours.”
And be open to scaling back your plans, altering your traditions, or even starting new ones if your family member’s memory loss is new or has worsened, Dr. Bonner-Jackson says.
Ultimately, he advises, embrace the fact that life with a family member with AD won’t always go according to plan.
“Flexibility is the overall theme. You may have plans, and it may become clear you can’t follow through with them. You have to shift,” he says. “Just try to enjoy the time for what it is with the people around you.”