The week we couldn't wait for months ago is now finally here, and now that it is we're maybe feeling overwhelmed (already!) and maybe sad as the holidays arrive, starting with Hannukah on Wednesday and Thanksgiving the following day.
The other week the Alzheimer's Association held a caregiver conference, and coping with holiday stress was among the main topics. We pulled together some of those tips to present here.
1. First and foremost, take care of yourself -- because if you don't, then you can't take care of others as you'd wish. That means trying to get enough sleep (instead of staying up in the wee hours doing holiday-related baking, wrapping, writing, etc.) Stick to a healthful diet (at least as much as you can with all those sweets being set out before you) and do not feel guilty if you need to decline an invitation because your loved one isn't up to a party.
2. Embed "rest periods" into each day. These are the sacred times when you do not let others interfere and so you both can relax. Be flexible in when these times occur.
3. Include the person with dementia in your holiday activities - let them help wrap or bag gifts, open cards together, let them help you bake cookies or turn up the holiday music and sing to your hearts' content.
4. Try to stick to a routine. Routines are important to someone with dementia, and the holidays are a great disrupter. Try to minimize that by scheduling visits when you would normally be most active and not when you typically are not -- like afternoons when a loved one is prone to sundowners.
5. Go easy on the decor. Just like small children and pets, be sure to keep decorations, especially those that mimic food, out of arm's reach. Be especially careful with candles and items on the floor. Know too that blinking lights can cause disorientation. And keep the dinner table as simple as possible.
6. Wear nametags. It might seem silly or even insulting to wear nametags at a traditional family gathering, but if you make a game of it - like everyone personalizing their tags and then discussing the personalization at the dinner table - then it's fun and helps your loved one remember who is seated with them.
7. Make sure everyone understands it's ok to tell a white lie if no one is hurt by it. Guests and long-distance relatives may start to argue with your loved one over a detail from the past or even present, like the number of rolls someone just consumed at the dinner table. Talk to them ahead of time about letting the little things go and the power of redirection to steer a conversation or behavior in a better direction.