Holidays can be hectic, and for someone with Alzheimer's the increased bustle can feel overwhelming. Think ahead and plan the activities taking in account your loved family members affected by Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementia.
The cheerful chaos and joyful confusion of a typical holiday season can end up overwhelming and distancing an Alzheimer's patient from loved ones just at the time when family members want to feel closest. But with a little forethought you can take steps to help draw a loved one with Alzheimer's disease into family gatherings and make the holidays less stressful for all involved.
"It's important to try to minimize how hectic the environment is," says Peter Reed, PhD, senior director of programs for the Alzheimer’s Association. "Too much activity and noise can confuse a person with Alzheimer's, making them withdraw."
Holiday Planning with an Alzheimer’s Patient in Mind
There are a number of things you can do in advance to help both the person with Alzheimer's and the entire family enjoy themselves during holiday get-togethers. Here are a few suggestions that might be of assistance:
- Communicate with family members. "The holidays could be the first time that the family sees changes that have taken place in the person with dementia," Reed says. "It's important to communicate the fact that that person has Alzheimer's and explain that it's changed the way he or she interacts with people. It's also important to tell family members to be as patient as possible." An added benefit to breaking the news: You can ask other family members and friends for their help in taking care of the Alzheimer’s patient during the holidays, allowing you time to handle other tasks.
- Plan ahead and be flexible. Involve the Alzheimer's patient in planning your holiday festivities by finding out which traditions mean the most to them. Try to keep your favorite family traditions, but be flexible in paring them down to ease your burden and adapt to changes wrought by the disease. Keep your expectations reasonable; acknowledge that things have changed and that the gathering will not be as it was in years past.
- Prepare a "quiet room" for the person. "Make sure the person with Alzheimer's has a dedicated space where he or she can go to get some rest and take a break from the noise and confusion of holiday get-togethers," Reed says.
Minimizing Festivity Frenzy for the Alzheimer's Patient
Here are strategies you and your family should keep in mind to make sure the festivities go are as pleasant as possible for the person with Alzheimer's disease:
- Don't turn the gathering into a memory test. By asking, "Do you remember who this is?" a loved one with dementia will likely feel demoralized and agitated. Instead, introduce each person by name, including the nature of their relationship to your loved one. For example, you might say something like, "Sharon, your nephew Fred wants to say hi."
- Involve kids. The energy and enthusiasm of kids can rub off on someone with Alzheimer's and brighten their day. Plan activities that children and a loved one can safely participate in together, like singing or making cookies. Just be sure to keep an eye out to make sure that the kids aren't wearing out or stressing the Alzheimer’s patient as they spend time together.
- Maintain the person's routine. If your loved one with Alzheimer’s usually takes a walk after lunch, help them to keep up with this activity during the holidays. You should also allow them to take a nap at their usual time and eat at the same times as usual. Such structure can make someone with dementia feel more comfortable amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
- Include the Alzheimer's patient in the day's activities. Depending on their current abilities, your loved one might be able to help prepare the meal or set the table. Getting involved will help them to feel like they have a purpose in the day's events.
Holiday activities for Alzheimer’s Patients
With these key factors in mind, here is a suggested list of some wonderful activities families can do together with a family member who has dementia or Alzheimer's disease:
- String popcorn
- Make paper chain garland
- Decorate apples or oranges with cloves and ribbon (pomander)
- Make holiday cards
- Stick stamps and return labels onto greeting cards
- Go caroling together
- Play old holiday music or try new holiday music
- Read holiday books aloud
- Make cookies
- Rake fall leaves
- Make paper snowflakes to decorate the house
- Take a stroll down main street to see the store windows
- Polish the silver for the arriving guests
- Put out holiday candles throughout the house
- Find holiday related crossword puzzles (kids books)
- Place holiday ornaments into a decorative bowl
- Make a simple holiday floral arrangement
- Invite a few friend over to visit for holiday tea and cookies
- Wrap gifts
- Collect pine cones for a decorative basket
- Rent a favorite holiday movie for the whole family
- Do a jigsaw puzzle together
- Take a nature walk together in the park
- Hang the holiday cards that arrive on the mantel
- Make a holiday card holder
Choosing Holiday Gifts for Alzheimer's Patients
Holidays are special for everyone and it is important for aging seniors and those with diminished mental awareness to be remembered so they may enjoy these events. Friends and relatives can choose a gift that is sure to please by asking questions and observing the patient's needs.
The most important factor to consider is matching the gift to the current condition of the patient. Relatives and friends who have not seen the person in a long time may not realize that these conditions not only affect memory, but also can affect concentration. In early stages of dementia, for example, magazines with bright pictures and short books are welcome gifts. As these diseases progress, one’s interest in these activities lessens and these would not be useful.
- Stuffed animals make good gifts for many nursing home patients. It is important to choose those that can be laundered. A reindeer for Christmas, a stuffed turkey for Thanksgiving or a birthday bunny can help celebrate these special occasion
- Musical gifts, if encouraged by the facility, can provide pleasure for the family member. A small radio or CD player with soothing holiday CDs can often aid a patient in going to sleep. Check with the staff before buying. If they are not equipped to take the time to turn it off and on, the gift would be wasted.
- Laminated photo collages of past holidays can help keep memories alive. Laminate sheets can be bought at any office supply store and applied to the sheet of photos of family or friends. These will help the person keep in touch with the past.
- Holiday cards made by grandchildren that include a photo of the child are welcome gifts.
- Light-weight sweatshirts and sweatpants. Clothing that is easy to slip into makes the job of the staff much easier. For a special holiday an inexpensive Christmas or birthday shirt is a nice touch.
- Non-slip house shoes are good if the patient is allowed to wear them.
- A small television with DVD player can be a gift that the entire family buys together.
- Seasonal gifts like a small artificial Christmas tree with non-breakable ornaments or a tiny American Flag for Memorial Day add a nice touch to the room. Reusable seasonal gifts should only be given if arrangements can be made to remove the gift and store it for another season.
- A greeting card that can be personalized by recording a message. Hearing a familiar voice will give pleasure to persons with many stages of aging-related diseases.
- An electronic photo album keeps family and friends fresh in the patient's mind. Including scanned photos of the person's life in happier times can evoke pleasant memories. Current photos of children and grandchildren are nice additions.
Keeping the Larger Picture in Mind
When you do some advance planning, what could have been a stressful time for a loved one with Alzheimer’s may actually end up feeding the soul. "We find they often get kind of energized when they're with family," Kim Linder of Tampa, Fla., says of her elderly in-laws, both of whom suffer from dementia. "They just like to be around us, especially because we make a big fuss over them."
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