Caregiver Corner: Celebrating the holidays with a family member who has dementia

For many, the end of a year brings festive celebrations, time with family and a holiday from the demands of daily life. However, for those caring for a family member with dementia, the holidays can be stressful. From complex tasks such as preparing a holiday meal to the “simple” duties of personal care, the holiday season can be demanding for families living with dementia.

In my experience, both personal and professional, I’ve learned a couple strategies that can help make the holidays more meaningful (and restful).

  1. You’re the expert. You know your family member best. You know what distresses him, you know what she likes. Own your expertise and don’t let others make unreasonable demands.
  2. Pace yourselves. Don’t commit to something you know will not work. For example, going to a festive dinner and midnight mass may be too much, but joining the family for dessert might work.
  3. Make a list of things others can do to help you. It is difficult to ask for help, yet friends and family often want to help. Draw up a list of all the things a friend could do, copy it and hand it out when friends ask (e.g., make a casserole for us, help wrap presents while I go for a walk, take us for a car ride to look at Christmas lights, walk the dog).
  4. Try to keep to your normal schedule. This can be very helpful to maintain expectations and conserve energy.
  5. Make your health a priority. Continue to exercise, connect with friends, and enjoy healthy food.
  6. Take time to reflect and to anchor yourselves in the meaning of the season.
  7. Remember to HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired) when you are feeling stressed.

These are my tips. Share yours with me via email (lindauer@ohsu.edu) or a tweet (@AllisonLindauer).

I hope your holidays meet all your expectations and you start 2020 feeling renewed.

Support is available. The best way to find someone who can team up with you is to call a local organization. In Portland, the Multnomah County Family Caregiver Support Program offers help and support, 503-988-3646. The Alzheimer’s Association can also be a great source of support, 800-272-3900. Oregon Care Partners offers free caregiver training (on-line and in-person), 1-800-930-6851.

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