The Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone and we’re well into December, which means holiday gatherings are finding their way onto the calendar. For the families of nearly 6 million Americans, these otherwise happy occasions come with an added emotional burden: they have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, and as much as they want to include mom or dad, grandma or grandpa in the festivities, they’re not sure how it’s going to work out. Knowing that, we were drawn to this helpful and important article from NextAvenue with some good pointers on how to keep a loved one with dementia engaged when everyone gets together.
Plan Your Holiday Gatherings with Dementia Sufferers with Care and Preparation
“In many families, holiday or other event gatherings are a collaborative effort,” reporter Patricia Corrigan writes. “Someone brings the main dish, someone else brings a salad and another person shows up with dessert. Maybe it’s time, experts say, to assign one dinner guest to keep an eye on your family member who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Otherwise, that relative may end up sitting alone, staring into the distance, as others mingle after the meal.” While it may be practically impossible to engage with a loved one who has severe cognitive decline, most people with early or middle-stage dementia enjoy socializing, experts say, which makes including them in family gatherings that much more important. But some basic preparation is definitely a good idea.
In her NextAvenue article, Corrigan emphasizes how important it is to give special consideration to your loved one’s wants and needs when making plans for your get-together. “What would they like?” she asks. “What would make them happy? Maybe your mom likes to dance. Encourage the younger children to ask her to dance for a bit. Does your dad enjoy singing? A family sing-along after dinner may be in order.” If you have a loved one who can’t move around so well, having someone sit with them quietly, reminiscing or looking at old family photos, could be just the ticket. The key is not to force them into noisy activities and crowded situations that may make them feel confused and overwhelmed. “Sometimes, just sitting together, observing others at the gathering, may be enough.”
Holidays with Dementia: Keep the Conversation on Safe Topics, Avoid Confrontation
It’s also wise to steer clear of conversational topics that might better be avoided. “Current events may be troubling for someone with short-term memory loss,” says Corrigan. Most experts also recommend against correcting people with dementia when they repeat themselves or make clearly inaccurate statements. If a peaceful family gathering is the goal, it’s a good idea to do what you can to avoid confrontation. This is one of those times when it’s not all that important to be right.
The NextAvenue article reminds us that, although an estimated 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, the disease is still widely misunderstood. “Many people hear the word ‘Alzheimer’s’ and they think of someone who can’t communicate or doesn’t know what’s happening around them,” one Alzheimer’s expert told Corrigan. “That’s not always the case. Alzheimer’s affects everyone differently, and that’s why we shouldn’t make assumptions.”
Holidays with Dementia: Tips for Families
The article offers these general suggestions for families to help them prepare.
- Timing: Instead of a dinner, consider making your family gathering a brunch or lunch. Some people with dementia become more tired and confused as the day wears on.
- Patience: It’s important that people interact face to face and one on one with the person with dementia. “Be a good and patient listener,” Corrigan writes, “because some people may need longer to formulate their responses to questions.” A little patience goes a long way.
- Simplicity: Let your loved one take part and even help out in simple and non-stressful ways – folding napkins, setting the table, or even pouring the peanuts in a bowl. If they want to help, don’t automatically say no: give them tasks that reflect their abilities.
- Separation: Your loved one may need some down time, so plan ahead and provide a quiet spot in the house where he or she can escape the crowd and hubbub.
- Humor: In order to lighten the mood and keep things on an even keel, maintain your sense of humor and roll with the unexpected.
There are a host of excellent resources, including videos, here on the Alzheimer’s Association website to help people communicate more effectively with loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. No matter what else happens, Corrigan recommends that families talk openly beforehand about upcoming gatherings and develop a strategy to keep the loved one with dementia engaged and calm, to maximize everyone’s enjoyment.
Planning Ahead in the New Year
All this talk about the holidays reminds us that a New Year is just around the corner. Why not make this the year you finally get serious about retirement planning? Here at AgingOptions, that means a truly comprehensive plan for your future in which the important elements all mesh together seamlessly. It’s possible to have financial, legal, housing, medical and family strategies all work together in carefully-crafted harmony – and when they do, you’re far more likely to enjoy a secure retirement in which your assets are protected, you can avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and you can escape the trap of unplanned institutional care.
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(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)