Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult no matter what time of the year it is; while the holidays can be stressful regardless of whether you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or not! Trying to juggle both of these stressors at the same time can be enough to make you think about skipping holiday festivities altogether. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. With proper planning and prioritizing, you can make the holidays enjoyable for you and the person you are caring for. Here are 5 tips to make the holidays easier for Alzheimer’s caregivers.
1. Diet Restrictions
When planning holiday meals, it’s important to think about any diet restrictions your senior loved one may have. There are certain foods that can worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Ensuring your senior loved one sticks to their diet can help them keep their cognitive difficulties at bay. For example, sugar. Not only is sugar a known to increase dementia-related symptoms, nearly 20 percent of seniors have diabetes, making it crucial for them to limit their sugar intake. Make sure there is at least one sugar-free option available for your loved one to enjoy.
Please note, if your loved one is in the later stages of the disease, you may find it difficult to get them to eat. In this case, you may have to add sugar to their food to make it more appealing.
Another thing to mention is, many seniors have diet restrictions due to underlying medical conditions. Aside from sugar, cholesterol and sodium are a few of the most commonly restricted ingredients among older adults. Try your best to limit these ingredients to prevent your loved one from feeling left out. If you are attending a meal hosted by someone else, make sure to let them know about any diet restrictions ahead of time.
Many adults suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia have a difficult time being in crowded places. This is especially true if they are in the later stages of the disease. Crowds can make them anxious or agitated. Here are a few things to be mindful of.
Gatherings. If you host a gathering, try to keep it on the smaller side of the scale. If you are invited to a gathering, ask about the number of people who will be attending. Also, be sure to ask about the environment. If the guest list is small, but attendees are going to be confined in a small area, it may be a good idea to make more appropriate plans for your loved one.
Shopping. The same concept applies to holiday shopping. Crowded shopping malls and stores can leave a person suffering from Alzheimer’s feeling confused and disoriented. As a result, they could wander and end up getting lost. It may be a good time to introduce your loved one to online shopping if they haven’t been already. If going out is a must, try to avoid shopping during popular times.
3. Noise Level
Another reason it may be a good idea to avoid crowds this holiday season is due to the noise level. Noise is a common stressor for people with Alzheimer’s. It can make them overstimulated and agitated. As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, you should think about the noise level when making plans with your loved one.
If you are planning to take them to an event, ask the host about the noise level. For example, is there going to be loud music? Is there going to be a quieter area? Or maybe there is a certain time during the event where it is quieter. In this case, you could bring your loved one during the quieter time of the event. For example, if you know loud music is going to be played after dinner, you and your loved one can just come for the dinner.
Another noise to be aware of is background noise. Many people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have a difficult time relaxing when there are multiple stimuli going on. Because of this, it may be difficult to do things like eat and listen to music. Turning off the music during holiday meals is a simple thing you could do to help prevent your loved one from becoming overstimulated.
Another thing to consider when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is the lighting. Here are a few times you should think about lighting.
Holiday light shows. Holiday light shows can be huge stressors for those suffering from Alzheimer’s, especially if they are in the later stages of the disease. As a responsible Alzheimer’s caregiver, you should carefully consider whether it’s a good idea to take your loved one to a light show. Lights can easily over-stimulate them and cause them to become extremely confused.
Gatherings. Aside from the holiday lights, you should also be concerned with lighting in general. When having or attending events, make sure the area is well-lit. Older adults often experience a loss of vision. As a safety precaution, keep them away from poorly lit areas that may make it more difficult to see. This can result in a fall or an accident that could have easily been prevented with proper lighting.
Another thing to take into account when planning your holiday festivities is the type of activities you will take part in. You want to be considerate of not only your loved one’s cognitive limitations but their physical ones as well. For example, if your loved one has a difficult time walking or standing for long periods of time, make sure there is always a place for them to sit.
Also, be mindful of when you plan your activities. For example, many people suffering from Alzheimer’s do better in the mornings than the evenings. If this is the case, plan your activities during the earlier part of the days.
Here are a few activities for Alzheimer’s caregivers to consider.
Decorate cookies. While it may not be safe for your senior loved one to be responsible for baking the cookies, they can certainly help decorate them.
Put together a photo book. Your loved one would love to put together photo books. It is an excellent way to bond and remind them of special events.
Watch holiday movies. Holiday movies can be a great activity for senior loved ones.
Temperature. Skin loses the ability to maintain insulation, making extreme temperatures particularly dangerous for older adults. Weather that is too warm could send them into a heat stroke while freezing temperatures can lead to hypothermia. It is best to avoid extreme temperatures altogether.
Water. Make sure to keep them well-hydrated, regardless of the temperature.
Restroom availability. Make sure there are plenty of restrooms available for your loved one.
Alcohol. It is best for them to avoid alcohol. Make them feel included by offering nonalcoholic versions of their favorite drinks.
Simplify. The holidays are a time for friends and family to spend time together. Focus more on the experience as opposed to their detail.
Remember, the holidays can not only be difficult for you, they can also be difficult for your loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Their disease is life-changing and irreversible. Taking the initiative to plan with empathy and accommodate your loved one whenever you can is going to make the holidays a lot more enjoyable for the both of you. Your loved one won’t be around forever so enjoy them while you still can.
“5 Tips to Make the Holiday’s Easier for Alzheimer’s Caregivers,” Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.
Download the pdf: “5 Tips to Make the Holidays Easier for Alzheimer’s Caregivers.”