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Caring for a family member with dementia can be challenging and the holiday season can add more to an already full plate for many caregivers. The holidays are a time for family and friends to come together, share traditions, and make memories, but for families living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, it may take additional care.

One of the things to consider when planning for the picture of familyholidays with a person with dementia is the stage of the illness. Those family members in the early stages can experience minor changes, and some may go unnoticed. However, the person with dementia may have trouble following conversations or may repeat himself or herself. They may feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable, and might withdraw from the group.  Do not point out errors in their conversations or their difficulty recalling specifics. Periodically checking in with them with a simple “How are you coping with everything?” can help you determine their comfort level with the activities.

It is also helpful to inform other family members as to what to expect from their loved one when they arrive. A group text or email explaining changes to memory or behaviors can help the family prepare in advance. In the message, you can explain any unpredictable emotions, memory loss or possible soothing techniques.

As the caregiver, you also need to be good to yourself. The stress of caregiving responsibilities layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. Some variations might need to be made to your holiday traditions. Some things that may assist in lessening the holiday stress are:

  • Adjust your expectations. Talk to family members about your current caregiving situation and make them aware of what you realistically can and cannot do.
  • Ask for help. No one should expect you to be the sole person responsible for maintain every holiday tradition. Have other family members contribute to the meal or even hosting an event at their home.
  • Set limits. Break large gatherings up into smaller visits. Set time limits for visitors to help the person with dementia and yourself from getting overtired.
  • Make some variations. Sometimes evening is a time of agitation for people with dementia. Move the celebrations to mid-day and have a holiday brunch instead of dinner.
  • Mind Your Mindset. Negative thinking actually activates your body’s stress response, so steer your mind to the positives when you start down that slippery slope. Try to stay mindful, concentrating on the present moment. Think about what you can accomplish instead of what isn’t getting done; revel in the holiday joys you experience instead of focusing on those you bypass; appreciate the help you are receiving rather than resenting those who aren’t supportive.
  • Avoid triggers. Be careful of blinking lights and noisy locations as this might exaggerate confusion and agitation.
  • Maintain a normal routine. Keep routines as normal as possible. This will help keep the holidays from being disruptive or confusing.
  • Plan time for a break or rest period. While your loved one may relish in the company and holiday celebrations, he may need a place to retreat. Arrange for a quiet place for your loved one to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday celebration if needed.

Remember that perfection is not the goal of the holidays. There are many factors we can’t control when it comes to our loved ones’ health and abilities, so adjust your view of a successful holiday. Focus on what feels necessary to produce a holiday feeling and create good memories.

For more ideas and support, join ALZConnected, an online support community where caregivers like you share tips on what has worked for them.

 

Writer: Kathy Goins, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Clark County, goins.115@osu.edu

 

Reviewer: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County

 

Sources:

Alzheimer’s Association, (2017). The Holidays and Alzheimers. Retrieved from: https://www.alz.org/help-support/resources/holidays

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2018). Helping Alzheimer’s Caregivers. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/features/alzheimers-caregivers/

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At no other time of the year do most American families gather together for food, family, fellowship, and fun than at the holiday season.  We take off work to travel across the country or across town to gather for memorable moments and to eat delicious food, renew relationships, and watch endless amounts of football.  If you’re lucky, you’ll even be able to listen to grandma or grandpa share stories from the past.  Stories about “How things used to be…” back in their day.

Sometimes, not everyone can make it home though.  You may have a loved-one serving in the Armed Forces or you may have an aging parent or grandparent who can no longer make the trip.  And what about friends or family members in care homes?  Unfortunately, the holiday season can also be a time of loneliness for those who aren’t able to participate in family gatherings.  Reach out to them and share a moment of appreciation and affection.

While we might be drawn into the gift buying of the season, what most people really want and need is to know that they are loved, accepted, and remembered.  Whether it’s via some fancy-shmancy technology or in a sit-down, face-to-face conversation, grandparents can be particularly effective in showing their grandchildren how much they mean to them.  Research with grandparents highlights seven dimensions of grandparenting that bring the generations together.  Here is a brief description of each.

  • Lineage Work:  This refers to grandparents’ efforts to take their grandchildren back in time through stories and experiences from the past.family
  • Mentoring Work:  Is the process of teaching, coaching, or demonstrating to grandchildren skills or knowledge that the grandparent has learned over their lifetime.
  • Spiritual Work:  Refers to grandparents’ willingness to guide, comfort, and console grandchildren and to nurture them emotionally and in good spirit.
  • Character Work:  Is the process of helping grandchildren learn good character and the importance of being an ethnical member of society.
  • Recreation Work:  Refers to the fun and recreational activities that grandparents participate in with grandchildren; from board games to football games and everything in between.
  • Family Identity Work:  Refers to grandparents sharing with grandchildren what it means to be a member of their particular family.
  • Investment Work:  Is the effort that grandparents make to help grandchildren be successful in the future; from sharing resources to helping them find employment to gaining access to educational opportunities.

During your family gatherings this season, consider the impact and importance of bringing the generations together.  By including everyone, all involved (including the parents in the middle generation) will benefit from developing stronger ties with each other.

Writer: James S. Bates, PhD, Assistant Professor, Field Specialist, Family Wellness, Ohio State University Extension.

Reviewer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

Sources:

References:

Bates, J. S., & Goodsell, T. L. (2013).  Male kin relationships:  Grandpas, grandsons, and generativity.  Marriage & Family Review, 49, 26-50.

Bates, J. S.  (2009). Generative grandfathering: A conceptual framework for nurturing grandchildren.  Marriage & Family Review, 45, 331-352.

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