by Edyth Ann Knox
More About Edyth Ann
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 Alzheimers 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
The Holidays are times that can bring great stress for many. When you add a loved one
who has Alzheimers 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
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
- 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 Alzheimers 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 Alzheimers
Disease does not normally go. Television and video games with their noise and
movement are often very distracting and disconcerting to the individual with
Alzheimers Disease. Place the television and other noise makers in the
childrens 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
- 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 doctors 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. Dont 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
Alzheimers 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
- 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.
Decorations can cause confusion and safety hazards for an individual with
Alzheimers Disease. Follow common sense and standard fire prevention tips. To
minimize disruptions in your loved ones 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 Alzheimers 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
Alzheimers 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 Alzheimers Disease. Those jolly Santa Claus puppets may become
chatty companions for your loved one, or very frightening, especially at night or in
- Lighted candles should not be left unattended. Scented candles with hot liquid wax may
appear appetizing to a person with Alzheimers Disease, but can cause skin burns or a
- Move furniture as little as possible when setting up the decorations and the tree at
Christmas. Change your loved ones normal walking area as little as possible and keep
it clear of obstacles.
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 ones 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
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 Alzheimers 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 dont like. My friend Tom
says, "Maybe its 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
- I will share the care with other family members. Dont 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 cant stop yourself, at least identify
why youre "acting out."
- I will not inflate my expectations of the season. Often we set ourselves up for
disappointment by imagining the perfect Waltons Christmas. The perfect Holiday is
one where you feel loved and share your love with others.