Making Family Gatherings More Enjoyable for Those with Alzheimer’s
Christmas festivities may be winding down, but family gatherings aren’t limited to the waning days of December. Holiday get-togethers are bound to continue for several more days, and other family parties and celebrations happen all year long. That’s why we were eager to share with our readers and radio listeners this helpful and timely article from the Mayo Clinic website concerning a topic faced by many, many people: how can you make family gatherings during the holidays – or at any time, for that matter – more enjoyable and less stressful for your loved one who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease?
If someone in your family has dementia, odds are you’ve faced this dilemma before. You desperately want your loved one to enjoy getting together with family and friends just like he or she used to do, but you’ve seen first-hand how expectations can be dashed because of diminished mental capacity. Your loved one can suffer from emotional outbursts including tears or anger, or become fearful. Unprepared family members who haven’t seen this person in a long time don’t know how to handle the decline that is taking place, so they become uneasy. Meanwhile you as the caregiver end up exhausted and stressed out. Fortunately, there are some specific things you can do, and some to avoid doing, that can make any family gathering less of a heartache for you and much more pleasant for the one with Alzheimer’s disease. It just requires good communication, careful preparation, and maybe a healthy dose of adjusted expectations.
So what does the Mayo Clinic article recommend? For starters – and maybe it’s too late to do this for Christmas 2016 but you can always incorporate this strategy for other family events in 2017 – find ways to involve your loved one in the process of preparing for the gathering. Making preparations together is a wonderful way to engage someone with dementia, focusing less on the outcome and more on the process. If mom or dad can still help with the baking, preparing Christmas cookies or a birthday cake, or setting out the hors d’oeuvres plate, let them do it. Helping you open and display holiday or birthday cards can be another good activity. Ideas like these work for any season of the year, not just Christmas.
Another suggestion: tone down the decorations and try to make your gatherings quieter and more slow-paced. This can be hard if you’re used to the “cast of thousands” holiday party with your house filled with big lighted displays, lots of people, and candles galore, but all those blinking lights and the noise of loud conversation can be very disorienting for someone with dementia. Gatherings need to be smaller, if possible, and you need to adhere to your loved one’s daily routine as much as you can. Remember, the dementia sufferer also needs time to rest and disengage from the crowd.
The experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest that holiday celebrations – or any time of celebration, for that matter – take place in the most familiar setting possible. “For many people who have Alzheimer’s,” says the Mayo Clinic article, “a change of environment — even a visit home — can cause anxiety. To avoid disruption, consider holding a small family celebration at the facility (where your loved one lives). You might also participate in holiday activities planned for the residents.” Again, this means a change of holiday ritual for you, but it can make all the difference for the one you love who is dealing with reduced mental capacity. Mayo experts also urge you to pick and choose which gatherings are most important, and to be selective, only taking your loved one to the parties and get-togethers that really matter most.
If your loved one lives in a memory care facility and you’re the “gate-keeper” who decides when family members should visit, it’s a very good idea, say the Mayo Clinic authors, to minimize visitor traffic and to schedule visits at your loved one’s best time of day. Too many unfamiliar faces at once, even in a familiar setting, can prove overwhelming to the person you love, so it’s better to spread those visits by inviting two or three at once. It’s also important to prepare other family members who might not have seen your loved one in quite a long time, so they will know what to expect and not be caught off guard during their visit.
There are more excellent tips in this Mayo Clinic article and we encourage you to read it either for yourself or for someone close to you. And for those of you who are serious about starting the New Year with a well-crafted retirement plan in place, we here at AgingOptions are ready to be of help. If it’s your goal to protect your assets in retirement, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the fate of being institutionalized against your wishes, you need to start now to plan for the rest of your life. In short, you need a LifePlan – a comprehensive retirement plan that encompasses your financial protection, your legal affairs, your housing choices, your medical insurance coverage, even communication with your family. If you’ll work with us to create and follow a well-crafted LifePlan, the odds of fulfilling your retirement dreams increase exponentially.
Why not take the next step, invest just a few hours and find out more? We offer free LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the region. You can click here for information about upcoming seminars and also register online for the seminar of your choice. Or if you prefer, call us during the week and we’ll assist you in registration. Your dreams of a fulfilling and genuinely satisfying retirement can come true, if you plan! It will be our pleasure to help you do just that.
(originally reported at www.mayoclinic.org)