Help for the Holidays
The holidays are a time when family and friends often come together. But for families living with Alzheimer's and other dementias, the holidays can be challenging. Take a deep breath. With some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can still be happy, memorable occasions. Caregivers may want to:
- Familiarize others with the situation.
- Adjust expectations.
- Involve the person with dementia.
- Adapt gift giving.
- Familiarize others with the situation
The holidays are full of emotions, so it can help to let guests know what to expect before they arrive. If the person is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, relatives and friends might not notice any changes. But the person with dementia may have trouble following conversation or tend to repeat him- or herself. Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts. If the person is in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer's, there may be significant changes in cognitive abilities since the last time an out-of-town friend or relative has visited. These changes can be hard to accept. Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person.
- Call a meeting to discuss upcoming plans.
The stress of caregiving responsibilities layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. Invite family and friends to a face-to-face meeting, or if geography is an obstacle, set up a telephone conference call. Make sure everyone understands your caregiving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can do. Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine.
- Be good to yourself.
Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. If you've always invited 15 to 20 people to your home, consider paring it down to a few guests for a simple meal. Let others contribute. Have a potluck dinner or ask them to host at their home. You also may want to consider breaking large gatherings up into smaller visits of two or three people at a time to keep the person with Alzheimer's and yourself from getting overtired.
- Do a variation on a theme.
If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, consider changing a holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch. If you do keep the celebration at night, keep the room well-lit and try to avoid any known triggers.
Adapt gift giving
- Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person with dementia.
Diminishing capacity may make some gifts unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person with dementia needs or can easily enjoy. Ideas include: an identification bracelet (available through MedicAlert® + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return®), comfortable clothing, audiotapes of favorite music, videos and photo albums.
- Put respite care on your wish list.
If friends or family ask what you want for a gift, suggest a gift certificate or something that will help you take care of yourself as you care for your loved one. This could be a cleaning or household chore service, an offer to provide respite care, or something that provides you with a bit of rest and relaxation.
As we near the end of the year, the Alzheimer’s Association would like to thank you for supporting our vision of a world without Alzheimer’s disease. In the past year, the Greater Indiana Chapter served 76,000 individuals. We saw an increase of 33% in the number of people who called our helpline, visited our website or walked into our offices looking for assistance. Through care consultation, our masters level social workers helped nearly 1,000 families develop care plans to ease the burden as they face a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. More than 400 people were engaged in our research programs. Our petition to President Obama for a strong National Alzheimer’s Plan was signed by 4,300 Indiana residents. Though much was accomplished in the past year, there is still work to do. With more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, the State of Indiana alone has seen a 20% increase over the past decade in the number of residents with Alzheimer’s. An additional 326,000 Hoosiers serve as unpaid caregivers. These numbers will only increase as the baby boomer generation ages. The generous annual gifts of our donors enable us to provide the care and support as well as promote brain health and research that will have a positive impact on so many. Please consider making a year-end donation to help us eliminate Alzheimer’s disease. We will stop this disease. It is a matter of when. The ‘when’ will be determined by the magnitude and direction of the resources applied to finding a cure.
Depression and Alzheimer's Disease
If living with Alzheimer’s or caring for someone with the disease is overwhelming you, you are not alone. Depression is four times more likely to strike those over age 65 than younger individuals. Dr. Jeanne Dickens, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine, frequently sees Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers suffer from depression. It is found in 40 percent of persons with Alzheimer’s disease and in up to 80% of caregivers. “Caregivers are at extreme high risk for clinical depression,” Dr. Dickens said. Many people never get help for this treatable illness, but those who do seek help often improve. Dr. Dickens said she is a big proponent of the Alzheimer’s Association’s programs to help individuals with the disease and their caregivers experience social connectedness. “Other treatment interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can be helpful,” she said.
The presence of at least four of the following symptoms over a two-week period may indicate depression:
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Suicidal thinking or attempts
- Motor retardation or agitation
- Disturbed sleep
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Difficulty in thinking or concentrating
- Changes in appetite and weight
The Alzheimer’s Association offers regular support groups that meet monthly across the state. To learn more about education programs, click here. For immediate emotional support, contact our 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.