The holiday season is here, and with it comes many familiar traditions such as Christmas lighting and decorations, holiday shopping, laughter, and sharing of memories. Those of us who are managing the care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease will find that we have an array of feelings to deal with and, mostly, we wish for the understanding of others.  Family members and caregivers often feel overwhelmed with the added burden of care during this busy time.

It was around this time of year when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and while it didn’t seem too bad for the first several years, she seemed less and less able to cope as her symptoms progressed.  Several suggestions were made that helped our family at the time and I would like to share some of them with you.

  • Communicate with friends and other family members. Be open about discussing the details of family gatherings and organize tasks in a way that least disrupts the routine of the person with Alzheimer’s disease.  Do only what you can reasonably do and be direct with others about what their expectations are of you and the other person.
  • Engage your person in simple activities that are reminiscent of the past. Doing these things together will give you quality time with each other. Try playing favorite holiday music.  I remember decorating a small tree in my mother-in-law’s room while we listened to Christmas tunes on the radio. She walked around the entire time holding a small box of ornaments in her hands. She never dropped them and actually hummed the entire time!
  • Ask for help if you need it. Do not let yourself become overtired and rundown. It is very important to remember your own needs and if you need to take a break and have a little time away, it is really ok. And, remember that once the holiday season is over, there is a let-down period that you will experience. Again it is important to recognize your feelings and do something for yourself.  I remember that I would engage myself in an activity such as reading a book or working out regularly for a period of time.
  • Most of all, accept the fact that things are different than they used to be. Your situation may now require more flexibility, patience, and additional planning, but these things will give you and the rest of your family continued memories and guilt-free (is there such a thing?) holidays.

We wish you a meaningful holiday season and hopefulness for the New Year!

Very Truly Yours,

Betty J. Kemper, RN
Co-Founder, Kemper Cognitive Wellness
Founder & President, Kemper House Residential Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care

(Originally published December 2006)