While it’s somewhat refreshing to see something on the news other than political potshots, posturing, and anxiety producing dire predictions, news about the upcoming holidays can also bring its own anxiety.
When family and friends periodically gather, there can be changes from the last visit. Somehow, we don’t remain exactly the same from year to year. Life, some call it. Some of these changes, however, can be dramatic.
For example, if a family member is experiencing Alzheimer’s — and other family members haven’t been around for a while — the shift in personality and relationships can be stressful. Said family member may have increased anxiety due to the increased activity, different routines, and different people coming to the home.
Reminiscing about the past can actually be reassuring to someone with Alzheimer’s, so incorporating past pictures and memories into the celebration is a good thing. The National Institute on Aging has posted some helpful hints for these gatherings and thinking ahead is a good thing.
Remember to begin talking about the upcoming event and include (as much as reasonable) the individual with Alzheimer’s (let’s say Dad) — and bring family members up to date on any changes so they too can be prepared. Let them know that even if names get lost, being there is what matters, and that it is a disease process, not intentional.
• If you are caring for a loved one in the home, you don’t have to be told that life has changed. You don’t have to hit all the details you have in the past. Set your own limits.
• Sometimes, all the extra lights, music, decorations and other traditions can be confusing or stressful for your loved one. Be mindful of how all the activity is effecting him.
• Find ways for him to be involved. From looking at decorations, to talking about food, it all can help.
• Be aware that a crowd of people coming in all at once can be disorienting. If they do all arrive, make sure Dad has some quiet space and limit the number of conversations.
• Assure Dad that if he needs to rest, it’s OK. We all need to “escape” sometimes.
• Find distractions from the activity. Going back to the idea of looking at photos, keep an album around and find space to go through them with him in case it appears he’s becoming anxious.
These are just a few suggestions. Some ideas might be too much. Some too little. The family knows Dad, so adapt to what works.
From my own personal experience, I’ve found that having family and friends around went well—as long as we did what we could to make it feel less imposing. It seemed to naturally occur that people would “take turns” to visit.
One last thought: Lives have changed. They haven’t ended. Try to stay away from thoughts like “It’ll never be like it used to be.” Or worrying about what friends and family might think.
It’s the holidays — a time for joy.
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