5 Tips to Help Alzheimer’s Families Have Happier Holidays

Dealing with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult any time of year, but the holidays present unique challenges for patients and their families.

“As Alzheimer’s begins to rob someone of cherished holiday memories, families want to continue those special traditions and make new memories,” said Rebecca Axline, LCSW, supervisory clinical social worker at Houston Methodist’s Nantz National Alzheimer Center. “I often counsel families that if they continue to do things the way they’ve always done them, then everyone will end up frustrated and sad. New memories can become cherished moments, they just might be different than memories from past holidays.”

Axline recommends these five tips to help families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease find joy during the holiday season:

  • Keep celebrations simple – Involve your loved one in safe activities that engage their senses. Meaningful holiday traditions include baking cookies, hanging decorations, and attending faith services.
  • Communicate honestly with friends and family – Before a gathering, share with other attendees how your loved one has changed since they last saw each other – don’t try to hide or downplay changes. Understanding the patient’s behaviors and needs can allow family and friends to be involved in your loved one’s care and prevent stressful situations for you and the patient.
  • Be realistic – Your loved one has changed from the person you have always known, so be realistic that this holiday season will be different than the past. Choose a few holiday traditions that mean the most to you and your loved one to continue, but be prepared to change them slightly to accommodate your loved one’s needs.
  • Focus on the new memories – Families can be overwhelmed with emotion as they realize the holidays are forever changed. Take time to grieve for the lost moments, but do not miss out on the memories you can still make.
  • Follow physician recommendations – The hustle and bustle of the holidays can make it difficult to stick with your loved one’s medications and routine, but it is important to maintain a sense of normalcy for the patient. Caregivers should also follow their physician’s recommendations and take opportunities to rest and reduce stress.

“Holidays are about the love of family and friends,” Axline said. “Alzheimer’s disease can only take away the joy of the season if you allow it do so.”

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates more than 15 million caregivers provided an estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care and spent more than $5,000 caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s in 2015.

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