The holidays are a time when many people look forward to special celebrations with friends and family. When a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another dementia-related disease, the season can often bring additional stress for families.
“It’s important for caregivers to find ways to reduce that stress both for their own health and the health and safety of their loved one,” said Timothy Jessick, DO, Palliative Care Specialist and Medical Director of Post-Acute Care at ThedaCare. “If caregivers can find ways to help reduce their stress while they’re taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s, that can help create moments of joy during the holidays, even amid the difficulty of a relative’s declining health.”
Maintaining continuity with family traditions like holiday gatherings can be helpful for a person with Alzheimer’s disease by providing a sense of stability, Dr. Jessick said. It’s important, however, to balance holiday celebrations with being realistic about what you can do and what your loved one can manage.
“A patient with Alzheimer’s may become overstimulated or disoriented during a large family gathering,” he said. “Too much noise, such as loud conversations or music, may be upsetting for them.”
If you do plan a family gathering during the holidays, make sure you have a plan for your family member to have some quiet space to rest or get away from the party. Having simple distractions such as going for a walk with someone or looking through a scrapbook can help.
It’s best to plan celebrations that are simpler and more intimate, both to reduce the stress to your loved one and to yourself.
Caregivers may already be overwhelmed with activities and the day-to-day needs family members. Deciding that you’ll have a simpler holiday all around is fine, Dr. Jessick said. That might include hosting a family video call instead of a gathering, taking a drive to see holiday lights or cooking one special meal. You may decide to forgo decorating the whole house in favor of a tabletop Christmas tree, or other simple plans.
“It’s okay to prioritize when you’re in the role of caregiving,” said Dr. Jessick. “Setting realistic goals for the holidays is important. You must take care of your health and your stress level to be able to be there for your loved one – and it’s also okay to ask for help.”
While a caregiver might be reluctant to ask for help during the holidays since it’s a busy time for everyone, family members and friends often want to help but don’t know how or what’s needed. Online schedulers or apps such as Doodle or Calendly can offer an easy way to ask for help and to fill-in needed gaps.
Dr. Jessick recommends being specific about what’s needed or wanted: Such as spending an hour or two with your loved one so you can run errands, requesting meal deliveries, or spending time with children to help free up time for caregiving. Friends and family can choose the activity that is best suited to them and their abilities.
“Ensuring you have your own strong support system is vital to keeping your stress down during the holidays,” Dr. Jessick said. “Turn to your personal network, join a support group for caregivers, and tap into caregiving services in the community, such as transportation, housekeeping or respite services for additional help.”
Dr. Jessick also reminds caregivers to make time for self-care.
“Additionally, caregivers should keep up-to-date with their own wellness appointments,” Dr. Jessick said. “Let your provider know that you’re a caregiver so that they can help you stay current with vaccinations and needed screenings. The work that caregivers do is incredibly important, and should be appreciated. My hope is that they feel supported this holiday season, and it can be a time of joy for all.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.