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Achieving a Stress-Free Holiday for You and Your Loved One with Memory loss

Sharon Major, Director of Marketing and Community Relations, at Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr in Bryn Mawr, Pa., says, “For most of us, the holiday season is a very special time of year. We focus on the importance of our families and friends while recalling the many blessings we enjoy. It is also a unique time of sharing, faith and festive social occasions filled with the spirit and joy of the season.  

“However, as we have all experienced, the holidays can be also be an extremely busy time. The hustle and bustle of the season is punctuated by full social calendars, overflowing ‘to-do’ lists, long lines of shoppers and traffic jams at our favorite stores and shopping malls. As much as the holidays are a time of good cheer, they can also be very stressful and exhausting.

“This is especially true for at-home caregivers and families of loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. In fact, the holiday season can be physically and emotionally draining and even overwhelming for primary caregivers who are attempting to keep up with the demands of the season and the needs of their loved ones with memory loss.”

Be Realistic About What You Can and Cannot Do

Be honest with yourself. You can’t do it all! And you deserve to enjoy the holidays, too!

Memory care experts at the Mayo Clinic explain, “As a caregiver, it isn't realistic to think that you will have the time or the energy to participate in all of the holiday activities as you once did. Yet, by adjusting your expectations and modifying some traditions, you can still find meaning and joy for you and your family.”

A good way to start is by considering which aspects of the holiday season are most important and hold the most meaning for you and your family. The article “Holiday Stress Assessment for Caregivers” provides a simple chart that can be helpful in deciding which activities you want to retain and which ones you can do without. 

Important Tips to Reduce the Stress and Add to the Joys of the Season

To further assist you,the Alzheimer’s Association articleHolidays and Alzheimer's Families and the Mayo Clinic articleAlzheimer's: Tips to make holidays more enjoyable” offer many usefultips to keep your holidays calm yet bright. Highlights include:

  • Prepare Your Loved One Early – Prepare your loved one for holiday visitors ahead of time. Provide a private “sanctuary” that your loved one can retreat to when things get too hectic. Avoid giving them alcohol as it can cause depression.
  • Keep the Mood Calm – Loved ones with dementia can feel overwhelmed or irritated with the change in normal routine and increased levels of noise, people and overall stimulation. Try to limit your number of guests and visitors at any one time. If your loved one is in the earlier stages of the disease, keep in mind that they may have anxiety about others noticing their impairment.
  • Be Practical – You can only do so much! Set realistic expectations for yourself and your loved one. Avoid taking on too many tasks and consider scaling down your traditions (e.g. limiting travel and reducing your number of guests).
  • Decorate with Moderation – Over decorating and using bright, blinking lights can cause overstimulation. Avoid lit candles and other safety hazards, as well as decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats — such as artificial fruits. Also, do not rearrange your furniture as this can cause confusion.
  • Involve Your Loved One to The Extent They are Able – You can share the joy with your loved one and enjoy the season in many ways. Take a ride to see holiday decorations, sing or listen to holiday music, read cards, bake cookies or hang ornaments together.
  • Be Open and Honest with Others – Let family and friends know aboutyour loved one’s condition and your concerns about them. Prepare them for what to expect and how best to communicate with your loved one. Let them know that their patience and understanding is important and appreciated.
  • Give Safe, Useable Gifts – Your loved one will enjoy such gifts as photo albums of family and friends, stuffed animals or soft pillows, favorite music, videos and movies and simple games.
  • Visiting and Traveling Tips – If you are visiting friends and family, take a favorite “comfort item” with you and prepare the hosts for your loved one’s special needs, including a quiet area away from the crowd and noise. If you’re traveling long distances, be sure to plan ahead for all possible eventualities.
  • Ask for Help! – Friends and relatives often want to help, but don’t know how. Ask them for specific assistance during the holidays. For example: “Please pick up Mom’s prescriptions next Thursday.”

    A gift certificate for respite care is a great idea for both of you. It affords your loved one a change of scenery while providing you with some valuable “me time” away from your caregiving duties to relax and do some of the things you haven’t had time for.

In summary, the Mayo Clinic article says it best: “Remember, you can't control the progress of Alzheimer's or protect your loved one from all distress — but by planning and setting firm boundaries, you can avoid needless holiday stress and enjoy the warmth of the season.”

We Would Love to Hear from You!

If you have comments about questions on our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences in our comments section.

Engaging Days. Meaningful Moments.

Loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory impairments require specialized care and support. They also deserve a lifestyle rich in dignity and fulfillment. Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr provides residents with Engaging Days and Meaningful Moments that emphasize individual abilities, encourage socialization and promote the highest level of independence possible. We offer a complete continuum of leading-edge programs, services and amenities that address the total physical, emotional and social needs of residents in a caring setting that offers individual suites with large private baths and the comforts of home. Our community touches hearts and changes lives.

Helping Families Be “Family” Again

Memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another form of memory impairment doesn’t only affect the person who has it – it affects the entire family.

If you have a loved one with early- to mid-stage memory loss, you know how challenging it can be to provide the care that’s needed while trying to maintain balance in your life. As care needs increase, you may not be able to meet them physically or emotionally. It’s often difficult to be available to care for your loved one’s health and well-being around the clock.

If and when the time comes to seek additional help, place your trust in Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr. We lift the stresses and worries of being a caregiver from your shoulders, enabling you and your family to enjoy time with your loved one again. For more information, please call Sharon at (484) 380-5400,or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House/Bryn Mawr Terrace and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.