As the holiday season approaches, family members and caregivers of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias debate over what the best decisions are when making plans with family and friends. From traveling across the country by plane to staying at home with loved ones, different environments and plans can warrant different needs.
Sophia Wang, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine and an expert in geriatric patient care, provides some helpful tips for families and caregivers to use throughout the holiday season.
1. Know your values. Know yourself.
Deciding how to spend your time around the holidays should reflect your values as a person and as a caregiver. Pressure can often ensue during the holiday season as family and friends might encourage different plans and ideas. It’s important to do what is best for you and your loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to ensure a positive and comfortable experience.
2. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is time to simplify.
As holiday plans start to pile up, it might be time to cut back on other activities or delegate certain activities to friends or family who are available to assist. For example, ask someone, “Can you help watch dad each week while I go shopping to prepare for the holidays?”
3. If you are not sure what do for the holidays, keep a few plans in your pocket then decide which one works best for you.
Plan A: Fly six hours to visit our children for three days on Thanksgiving.
Plan B: Celebrate Thanksgiving with our neighbors.
Plan C: Buy dinner, sleep in and watch TV at home.
Even if you end up going with Plan A, this process will offer perspective and alleviate any anxiety from the unknown.
4. Changes in routine can sometimes cause stress and confusion for your loved one. Pace accordingly.
If possible, take your loved one to visit a familiar place. Stick to routines, bring comforting items and eat favorite foods.
5. If you decide to travel, consider having family, friends or hired helpers assist you.
Additionally, if flying, consider signing up for TSA pre-check for shorter lines and to minimize removal of shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. Also, when flying long distances, staying well-hydrated and stopping at a halfway point for one day could help with jet lag. If your loved one has incontinence, place pads on their mattress, as well as any seat they use in an airplane or car. If you are staying in a hotel or with a guest, consider childproofing the door knob or bringing a portable door alarm to prevent wandering.
6. If you are hosting, ask family to help with preparations ahead of time.
If you agree to host a gathering during the holidays, be sure to ask family and friends to help and support you, as it shouldn’t be a one-person operation. Ask for help and accept help from others with things like additional food prep and clean up. Be clear about what time people need to arrive and depart.
7. If you are visiting someone’s home, ask them about accommodations beforehand.
See if there can be a quiet room so your loved one can catch a breather. Bring photos of familiar people and activities to keep your loved one occupied and calm. Consider brunch or lunch instead of dinner to avoid sun-downing, a state of confusion for Alzheimer’s patients that can occur in the late afternoon and spans into the evening.
8. Provide education to all generations of family about Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s crucial that family members of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease understand what is happening to their loved one. The Alzheimer Association offers beneficial tools to educate family members of all ages about the disease, including kids and teens.
9. Spend time enjoying the holiday.
Amid the holiday rush, make sure you also schedule quality time for yourself and get a breather from the demands of caregiving. Consider asking for time off from your family members as your holiday present.
10. Listen to others’ advice, but trust yourself.
At the end of the day, you know what you and your loved one can handle. Prioritize your safety and well-being during the holiday season.