Providing care for someone with dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, can have its challenges and its uplifting moments, but doing so around the winter holidays can add a bit of both.
Family members may experience things a little differently than skilled caregivers since they likely have grown up with the person with Alzheimer’s and have been with them for many holidays and other winter occasions, so they have these memories to fall back on.
The team at Accredited Home Care wants to do everything it can to make things special for our clients and their families this time of year. That can include being familiar with how these types of dementia affect the brain and body, and what kind of responses could be expected, depending on how advanced their Alzheimer’s disease is progressing.
It is possible for families to have a relaxing holiday, and it’s also equally possible for it to be emotionally difficult for many if at least one family member is dealing with dementia. They may still enjoy aspects of the holiday from their past but also may not remember some current details. They also may feel unsure about what’s happening.
For caregivers, some issues to consider include:
- Find ways to minimize décor disruption. Part of what some people like about the holidays is that it’s a time to temporarily change things up a little bit. This can include moving things around in the house to make room for a tree or other décor, putting up decorations, or putting some furniture and décor away for a month or so. But this type of change can be difficult for people dealing with dementia. They may not recognize their surroundings or familiar backgrounds anymore. They may feel overwhelmed by the lights and different décor.
- Beware of schedule disruptions too. People may be on different routines than other months of the year which means different activities can be offered. It can even mean different people in the home than usual – close friends or family members who may be here for an extended stay. Or home health care staff, including nurses, could change too, due to vacations and substitutions.
- Look for ways to keep things calm. Create spaces for a client who is feeling overwhelmed to escape all the hubbub. It can include sitting in a favorite chair watching a favorite TV show or movie, perhaps while wearing headphones to cut down on background noise or interruptions.
- Watch out for sundowning. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease become more agitated in the afternoon or evening, and it has been difficult to explain why this takes place. But it’s something to keep in mind if a client’s family is planning holiday activities in the afternoon or evening. They may schedule a dinner or a party, but doing so could increase the risk of possible interruption. If they do want to continue an annual tradition. Perhaps an event could be considered for the morning, such as a brunch.
- Don’t allow alcohol. Some exceptions apply, such as if they are longtime drinkers and already have a little drink as part of their daily health and wellness routine. But during the winter holidays, it’s easy to over-indulge in holiday cheer, especially when there could be so much alcohol around and so many toasts and special occasions to be had. While alcohol can be fun in the moment, it can disrupt sleep patterns, and possibly cause challenges walking or speaking.
- Keep outside activity to a minimum. Taking a client somewhere, such as on errands or to see Christmas lights in the community, can be fun for them but it also can wear them out fast.
While the previous examples are presented as potentially difficult situations caregivers could be aware of, there are also reasons that can be positive factors.
Holiday music, for instance, can help many clients relax. Even if they can’t remember much about their current lives, hearing a favorite song from the past might bring forth all sorts of happy memories. They can surround themselves with music they love and even remember past Christmases.
Clients who are ‘lost in the past’ due to their dementia may still be able to share vivid details of their childhood and past holidays which can be interesting, especially for family members who may not know some of these details or the people that are being talked about 30 or 40 years later. They may be able to share stories of traditions or the meaning of some ornaments.
Caregivers can also encourage family members to skip big Christmas parties that might be overwhelming to anyone. If they still need or want to party, the family can organize something much smaller and more intimate. This will keep the client from overextending themselves.
Overall, talking with fellow home health caregivers who have worked the holidays with clients with dementia can give you a good perspective on what may be experienced.