I come from a big family — eight kids. We’re all adults now, with our own families and our own holiday traditions. But no matter how old you are, the traditions you grew up with are an important part of who you are. And so, if something interferes with the way things always were, it can be very unsettling.
Before I go any further, let me introduce myself. My name is Diane Atwood and I have the privilege of writing the Advantage Home Care Blog.
In our family, we celebrate Christmas. You can just imagine the chaos on Christmas morning when we were growing up
There were rules, of course. No presents until after church, for instance. Church has always been important to my mother. For many years, she brought communion to people unable to leave their homes. But now, my mother has Alzheimer’s disease and someone brings her communion because she can’t attend church anymore.
At Christmas, my mother used to spend a lot of time and effort shopping for gifts, first for us, and then for grandchildren. At some point, she decided it would be easier to send everyone some money in a card. She had a heap of cards to send, and I don’t know how she ever managed, especially as more grandchildren and then great grandchildren came along. No cards were sent the year we realized she had Alzheimer’s. Like the bills she could no longer keep straight, sending cards was too confusing. Now, I do it for her or rather, we do it together, which means I buy the cards, make out the checks and address the envelopes. She approves each card (I buy extras just in case) and signs them in handwriting that isn’t nearly as graceful as it used to be.
On Christmas Day she says she’d rather stay home alone than be with family. We’ve learned not to take it personally. In fact, we’ve learned a great deal about communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s and also about coming to terms with the fact that many things, including the holidays, aren’t what they used to be.
The Alzheimer’s Association has some tips that may help my family and yours have a more festive and less stressful time, whatever holiday you celebrate. First of all, if you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s go easy on yourself. When you layer keeping up with family holiday traditions on top of caregiving, you risk being even more overwhelmed than usual.
All of the following holiday tips are courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Adjust your expectations
- Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage
- Choose holiday activities and traditions that are most important to you
- Host a small family dinner instead of a huge party or let someone else do it
- Consider serving a catered or takeout holiday meal
- Start a new tradition, perhaps a potluck dinner
Things you can do together
- Wrap gifts
- Bake favorite holiday recipes
- Set the table
- Read holiday cards
- Look through photo albums or scrapbooks
- Watch a favorite holiday movie
- Sing favorite carols or read passages from a favorite book
Gift ideas for someone with Alzheimer’s
Early stage: Individuals may be aware of their problems. Choose gifts that will enhance independence and activity.
- Tickets to a concert, musical or sporting event
- A fruit basket, frozen meals, or other meals that are easy to prepare
- Photo albums or a collage of old family photos
Middle stage: Since more assistance is needed and the attention span in the individual is shorter, try gifts that focus on organization and the familiar.
- Gifts that involve sorting and arranging or cutting
- Picture books featuring celebrities, historical places or nature
- Taped religious services and music from church services
Late stage: Capacity to deal with anything complicated is diminished in the later stage so choose gifts that keep in mind that comprehension and understanding is poor.
- Memory books or boxes made up of old photos and mementos
- Visits from well-behaved animals
- Lap robes, shawls or warm footwear
- Stuffed animals, dolls or pillow to bring a sense of comfort
- Hand and body lotion along with a massage
I learned recently that although cognitive memories fade with Alzheimer’s disease, emotional memories don’t. I’ve witnessed it several times since. One of my mother’s caregivers took her for a long drive. She couldn’t tell me who took her or where they went, she only knew that she enjoyed it very much. She danced at my sister’s recent birthday party. She had only a vague memory of the party and no memory of dancing, but she recalled having a good time. We went window shopping at the mall and looked at the Christmas decorations. As I helped her into the car, she asked to be reminded about what we had done. At home, she took my hand and told me how much she enjoyed spending time with me.
Understanding this has helped me a great deal and makes me realize how simple it is to do something that makes my mother happy. The holidays are NOT what they used to be in my family, but it doesn’t matter. What does is having her take my hand and telling me how much she enjoys spending time with me. She’ll have the chance on Christmas day, even if she does say she’d rather stay home alone. I know it’s the Alzheimer’s talking.
If you’re having a difficult time coping with the holiday because someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease, you can call the Alzheimer’s Helpline for support any time of day or night. 1.800.272.3900