Holiday Gatherings – Successful Visits when Alzheimer’s Joins the Family

As families make plans to visit relatives for holiday festivities, understanding strategies about how to make the most out of visits with our senior loved ones who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia is an important part of the planning.

Often we need a few strategies to make the most of family visits and holiday reunions.

These strategies will vary with the stage of the disease, early or more advanced.

Because Alzheimer’s disease affects so many older adults, this disease may be joining your family too, if it hasn’t already.

There are few families unaffected by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Helping Family Members Cope

Learning all you can about the disease, its progression, what to expect at each stage along the journey and how to handle the duties of caregiving will help you but also help you make other family members understand the challenges of providing care.

During the holidays it is a good time to increase awareness of long distance family members and siblings who haven’t had to deal with the day to day tasks and even the many changes in your senior loved one.

Children and teens in the family should be informed about what to expect when they visit and how to handle situations that might arise. Children are usually empathetic and nurturing to seniors but if they can be prepared for their visit, they will be able to react more appropriately.

Have activities planned that children and teens can do to engage with the loved one with dementia. No one wants the kids to feel embarrassed to be with these older adults or afraid that they may have ‘made them worse’.

Tips for Visiting Persons with Dementia

Because family members want to visit as often as possible but may not have been able to for some time, they may be surprised at how quickly a person with dementia can change. Your senior loved one may not be the same as they were upon their last visit.

Helping each visiting family member and friend understand the changes and what to expect will help their visit be more enjoyable for everyone.

There are things that the primary family caregiver can do to help facilitate visits and holiday events when there is a person with dementia included in the fun.

Here are some suggestions for how to prepare not only the family but the situation to safeguard your senior loved one and help make the holidays a pleasant memory.

  1. Limit crowds – try to keep large gatherings to a minimum. Instead, opt for small group visits with 2-5 people only. Large crowds that are noisy can be overwhelming for a person with dementia. It is too hard to keep up with the questions, conversation and movement of a large group.
  2. Schedule rest breaks – be sure your senior loved one has a chance and a soothing place to take a break from the festivities. This might mean scheduling a nap and even asking guests to leave for nap time. Getting overtired and overstimulated can be a recipe for disaster, aggressive behavior and confusion for seniors with dementia.
  3. Keep the daily schedule close to everyday routine – whenever possible maintain your senior loved one’s schedule as near normal as usual. They should get up, eat meals, take baths and go to bed around the same time as usual. Disturbances in their normal pattern can also lead to behavior issues.
  4. Let people come to them, not forcing travel – for those with advanced dementia, their familiar environment is a better place to meet and greet family and friends. Invite a few over at a time and include a few for meals. Driving around to strange locations and not being able to wander around their own living environment can create confusion. Having a place to escape during a stimulating situation like holiday parties will help your senior with dementia.
  5. Let everyone know recent changes and what might be expected – behavior, memory, might not recognize them, repetitive questions, aggression, swearing, or sundowning. Explain about conversing with your senior loved one, avoid conflict and confrontation. Tell them to enter their reality and don’t correct their story telling, join in with them instead. Some people may not be happy that their senior loved one can’t remember them and would be better off being prepared.
  6. Observe for signs of overstimulation – when the crowd and the conversation gets too hard to handle for your senior loved one, it’s probably time for an exit strategy.
  7. Involve the loved one with dementia in activity – have enough to do to keep them occupied, be sure the activities are appropriate for their abilities to avoid frustration.
  8. Reminisce and recreate pleasant memories of holidays from the past – serve familiar foods, play music they enjoy, bring out decorations from their past, show family photos or play family friendly games to strike memories and allow for reminiscing.
  9. Tell family which gifts are appropriate and desired – in addition, don’t hesitate to ask for items that will help you as a caregiver throughout the upcoming year.
  10. Ask for respite during the holidays so caregivers can rest or do things during the holiday season that they enjoy away from the loved one with dementia; for example, can someone sit with your senior while you take a needed break, clean gutters, hang outside decorations, rake leaves, or clean windows at some point during their visit because you simply can’t do those type of jobs while caregiving. Maybe they can hire a weekly housekeeper so that you can spend time caring for yourself or just being with your senior loved one without worry about laundry or vacuuming.
  11. Include their favorite holiday music in the events, don’t just play today’s hits. Do members of the family play musical instruments? Did your senior play an instrument that you can offer for fun?
  12. Prepare for any traveling that you and the person with dementia will do during the season – if you have to travel or wish to, plan ahead for obstacles and prepare the way ahead to make the trip as easy as it can be for everyone who goes including the person with dementia.

Make Holidays Special for All

Most families are happy to learn about and do whatever they can to make the holidays special for their senior loved ones, especially family caregivers.

So many sandwich generation adults are spending time, not just during the holidays but all through the year, caring for their senior loved ones who need them to take on the role of caregiver.

Instead of spending time with friends, children and grandchildren, or traveling, they are caring for someone with dementia. Naturally they are happy to do it because their family members have given so much to them over the years and now they can give back.

However, it takes a little know how to achieve a reduced stress holiday that is enjoyable for everyone in the family when Alzheimer’s and dementia join the family dynamic.