Maintaining (or adapting) old family rituals and traditions helps all family members feel a sense of belonging and family tradition. For an Alzheimer’s resident, this link with a familiar past is reassuring and builds self-esteem. Remember that your situation is different now; you must set your own limits early on and be clear about them with others. You do not have to live up to the expectations of friends or relatives. Simplify!
Encourage family and friends to visit, even if it is painful for them, but keep the number of visitors at any one time to a minimum. Explain to the guest as clearly as possible what they might expect from the resident–particularly odd or unusual behavior that may occur. Make clear that the resident’s memory loss makes it impossible for him or her to remember what is acceptable, but that he or she still needs contact with family and friends. In addition, several days before the guests arrive, begin showing the resident photos of the people you expect to visit. Spend more time each day explaining who each person is. If possible, arrange for the resident and the guest to talk on the telephone; they will all get a better idea of what to expect when they meet.
Try some simple holiday preparation with the resident several days ahead. Observing preparations will familiarize him or her with the upcoming festivities and participating with you will allow the resident to experience the pleasure of helping and giving as well as the fun of anticipation and reminiscing.
Prepare potential quiet distractions (e.g. a family photo album or a simple repetitive chore like cracking nuts) to be used if the resident becomes upset of over stimulated. Try to avoid situations that may further confuse or frustrate the resident–crowds of people who expect the resident to remember them, loud conversations or music, strange surroundings, changes in light intensity, overindulgence in rich food or drink (especially alcohol), changes in routine and regular sleep patterns.
If you receive an invitation to a holiday celebration, which the resident cannot attend, go yourself. Enjoy the chance to be with friends and family and remember that your missing a fun occasion will not help your loved one.
START NEW TRADITIONS
Look at the holidays as a chance to start new, simpler traditions. Do not let “what you have always done” bind you to do something that will not nourish and comfort you. Give yourself permission to make changes and to be flexible.
RELIVE HAPPY MEMORIES
Pick several memories of past holidays to reminisce with your Alzheimer’s family member. Do so frequently.
ASK FOR ASSISTANCE
Sometimes it is impossible to get everything done. Others may want to help but are unsure what to do and are waiting to be asked.
ENJOY YOUR FAMILY
Don’t forget the rest of your family, especially the children. Total involvement means happier times.
All too often, people place their own needs last. Don’t neglect yourself during the holiday season, plan to do something just for you.
INVOLVE THE ALZHEIMER’S PERSON
Encourage participation in the holiday preparations and festivities. Allow them to help with wrapping gifts, baking and caroling activities.
Maintain normal routines as much as possible. Plan smaller, quiet gatherings that are less stressful. Remember your own limitations as well.
Alert visitors to changes in the person and provide hints for successful visits and appropriate gifts.
AVOID ALCOHOL AND DRUGS
Don’t use them as a means to cope, as they can intensify depression and feelings of loss.
PREPARE FOR POST-HOLIDAY LETDOWN
Arrange for respite care so that you can enjoy a movie or visit a friend to help reduce post-holiday stress.
• Easy to remove casual clothing
• Tapes of favorite music
• Home video of family members
• Videos of animals, travel, old-time comedy shows such as “I Love Lucy” or the “Honeymooners”
• Photo albums
• Gardening and flower arranging supplies
• Bird feeder
• Active games such as balls, indoor bowling
• Card games such as “Uno,” “Rumicube”, dominoes, trivia games
• Magazine subscriptions such as “Good Ole Days,” “Ideals,” “Reminisce”
• Puzzles with an adult theme and no more than 100 pieces
• Poetry and prayer books
• Stencils to trace, easy craft projects
• Sewing cards, large beads to string
• Adult coloring books
• Colored pencils
• Tote bag
• Old time radio tapes
• Coffee table type picture books
• Door decorations
• Teddy bears, hand puppets and life-like dolls
• Tablets and pencils