Home Care for the Holidays


by Edyth Ann Knox
More About Edyth Ann…

The Holidays are times of great joy, feasting and family traditions that fill us with secure and warm feelings. They are times to reestablish family ties and bonds. The Holidays are days we remember and cherish for years to come.

Yet for those caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s Disease the Holidays can be filled with trips to the doctor or the emergency room. They can be times that our loved one may show frustration, agitation or aggressive behaviors, instead of being filled with joy and good will. This can destroy the Holidays for the caregiver and the rest of the family. Many caregivers often cease participating in the Holidays altogether after a horrendous holiday.

The Holidays are times that can bring great stress for many. When you add a loved one who has Alzheimer’s Disease into the mix often the stress can become too much for both the caregiver and the loved one. You do not need to dread the arrival of the Holidays. There are ways you can still celebrate the season by making adjustments and considerations to improve your chance of a safe and happy holiday for both you and your loved one.

The Parties

Many times the Holidays provide too much stimulation and commotion for our loved ones to be able to deal with. This can cause them to become more disoriented and agitated. There are things we can do that will help make it less stressful on our loved ones and ourselves:

  • Seeing family during the Holidays is a great joy to us and our loved ones. However, large noisy groups are too much for our loved ones to handle and create too much stress for the caregiver, especially if she is the hostess. Keep the visits to smaller groups of about a dozen for shorter periods of time. Provide your loved one with a quiet room where he can go to if things become too much. Do not try to force visiting on him.
  • Any time the caregiver feels overwhelmed the individual with Alzheimer’s Disease "picks it up" and tends to act on it. Minimize your own stress by resisting the impulse or sense of obligation to host the "perfect" Holiday party. Suggest that another relative host the family party this year, or invite one or two relatives over early to help you prepare the dinner and assist with hosting.
  • Provide little children with a separate area where the individual with Alzheimer’s Disease does not normally go. Television and video games – with their noise and movement – are often very distracting and disconcerting to the individual with Alzheimer’s Disease. Place the television and other noise makers in the children’s area and limit the volume.

Traveling and visiting with the loved one is generally heartbreaking. The farther along in the disease your loved one is the harder visiting at someone else's place is for them. If you do decide to take your loved one visiting be prepared to go home early. Strange places and the confinement of traveling and visiting can be too much to handle. If you go to visit:

  • Pack a bag for your loved one even if we were going to be there only for a short period. Bring a change or two of clothing, extra adult diapers, a favorite or familiar object for her to carry and hold. I also made sure I had wash cloths, her soap, her own cup and whatever I needed for any situation. I would even take this bag with us when we went to the doctor’s office.
  • If the car ride is more than 15 minutes, pack snacks like apples, carrots and cookies for your loved one to eat in the car.
  • When you get there, lead your loved one to an area where she can visit with a small group out of the main traffic of activities. Your loved one may enjoy visiting and seeing children, but she may act differently in the middle of it at a strange place.
  • You may enjoy a family event without your loved one present. Don’t feel guilty about taking some time away so that you can relax and socialize. Find a sitter or home care aide to watch your loved one for a half-day.

Most Holidays involve an abundance of food, especially sweets. Many individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease have a big sweet tooth. Unfortunately, many people with dementia can not tell when to stop enjoying the goodies and can eat themselves to a point of getting sick.

  • Allow your loved one access to some treats.
  • Do not place large amounts of goodies out at one time. Instead place smaller portions.
  • Include healthful treats such as carrots, celery sticks and pieces of cut up fresh vegetables and fruits. This allows your loved one more variety and some better snacks than all the sweets. You can place out a small tray of cookies and sweets at different times of the day for all to enjoy.

Holiday Decorations

Decorations can cause confusion and safety hazards for an individual with Alzheimer’s Disease. Follow common sense and standard fire prevention tips. To minimize disruptions in your loved one’s routine, keep the decorations as much to one room or area as possible

  • Avoid breakable decorations or small ornaments. Your loved one came become delighted with shiny and pretty decorations. Many times they are so delighted they pick them up and try hiding them. Some individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease become very tactile and must touch everything, so stay away from all those pretty glass ornaments and decorations.
  • Avoid things with small parts that can cause choking because many individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease try to put things in their mouths. Use the "Toilet Paper Roll Test:" If you can put the object down the tube of a roll of toilet paper, keep it well out of reach.
  • Electrical decorations also present a risk to our loved ones. Turn on the lights on the tree only when the family or someone is in the room to ensure that your loved one does not fiddle with bulbs or break the wiring and expose himself to the risk of grabbing bare wiring. Battery powered decorations may be safer.
  • Be aware that animated or human form decorations may alternately delight or frighten the individual with Alzheimer’s Disease. Those jolly Santa Claus puppets may become chatty companions for your loved one, or very frightening, especially at night or in shadowy lighting.
  • Lighted candles should not be left unattended. Scented candles with hot liquid wax may appear appetizing to a person with Alzheimer’s Disease, but can cause skin burns or a fire.
  • Move furniture as little as possible when setting up the decorations and the tree at Christmas. Change your loved one’s normal walking area as little as possible and keep it clear of obstacles.

Winter Safety

Most of our Holidays happen during the colder months. Our loved ones are at an age where they get chilled much easier. They tend to feel every draft and even though we feel warm and cozy they are often cold. Dressing them warmer can be of great benefit. If possible, keep your loved one’s room a degree or two warmer than the rest of the house. We chose a space heater that looked like the old fashion radiator. The added benefit of this heater was that I could use it to warm her clothing before I put them on her.

There is the additional risk to a Loved One with chances of them getting out of the door unobserved, especially when there is an increase in activity. Once out the door the dangers to your loved one increases.

  • Place bells or a door alarm on all doors leading outside can help alert you when your loved one may be leaving the house.
  • Dress your loved one in clothing that can easily be recognized helps to spot a wanderer from a distance or in a group.
  • Give an early present of a "Safe Return" bracelet to aid in having your Loved One returned if found alone.
  • If you can't keep your walkways or driveway clear of snow and ice, we recommend for safety that additional traction on ice devices be used.

Write Your Own Sanity Clause

You can make adjustments in Holiday routines to make the season more enjoyable for both the individual with Alzheimer’s Disease and the yourself. Spending time with family and friends is often important for both of you. Remember that you are entitled to have a good time spending time with your family during these visits.

Make yourself some promises this Holiday season:

  • I will take quality time for myself. You deserve time away from your loved one. This is not selfish. You have your own identity and interests. Nurture them.
  • I am not Superman/Superwoman. You can not provide unlimited care to your loved one. You have limits. Acknowledging those limits helps reduce your anxiety and improve your loved ones quality of life.
  • I will take proactive steps to reduce my stress level. You should reduce large stressors in your life as well as the stressors that come up at this time of year. Consider starting a sensible exercise program such as walking regularly. Consult with your health care provider to find the best program for you.
  • I will spend only what I can afford. If you must cut back, cut back and make no excuses for your situation. Stop exchanging gifts with people you don’t like. My friend Tom says, "Maybe it’s time to assertively and gently give someone a piece of your mind instead of your wallet." You will feel unburdened – this is a great gift to give yourself.
  • I will share the care with other family members. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to ask other family members to help monitor and care for your loved one. At the same time, do not push the tasks onto them with feelings of guilt. This is an opportunity for others to see the type of loving care you provide every day as well as an opportunity for them to have the positive aspects of caregiving.
  • I will strive to understand my negative feelings and emotions. Learn about them and think of ways that you can start to change your situation in the future. Confronting these emotions will make powerful and lasting changes in your life. Do you need to speak with a professional counselor, trusted friend or religious advisor?
  • I will enjoy myself, but in moderation. Identify why you are drinking more, smoking more, cursing more or overeating. Even if you can’t stop yourself, at least identify why you’re "acting out."
  • I will not inflate my expectations of the season. Often we set ourselves up for disappointment by imagining the perfect Walton’s Christmas. The perfect Holiday is one where you feel loved and share your love with others.

Related Articles

- Getting Through the Holidays Successfully: A series of articles, tips, and suggestions from ALZwell Caregiver Support
- Stress Management: Tips and Techniques
- Identifying and Reducing Stress in Your Life
- Caring for the Caregiver: Promoting Your Own Well Being
- Strategies for Managing Stress Skill Builder

- Don't Feel Guilty!
- Understanding and Acknowledging Negative Emotions

- Overcoming Negative Emotions

"Write Your Own Sanity Clause" was written by Rich O’Boyle and Thomas J. Schumacher Psy.D., R-C.S.W. Tom is a practicing psychologist in Hicksville, N.Y. He specializes in individual, couples and marital counseling.

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