by Rebecca Logsdon, Ph.D.
We usually think of holidays as pleasant times, when we look forward to festive visits with family and friends. But holidays can also be stressful, lonely, or disappointing. This may be particularly true for individuals with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers. Because of the memory problems and increased confusion that are caused by AD, the holiday season may be quite different than it has been in the past. The bustle of visitors may be disturbing if the person with AD does not remember friends or relatives. Decorations and blinking lights may frighten or upset some individuals. Caregivers may feel added burden as they single-handedly shoulder responsibilities for shopping, entertaining, wrapping gifts, and planning activities. Added together, these may lead to feelings of exhaustion, guilt, and sadness--what is commonly referred to as the "Holiday Blues."
If you notice that you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or blue during the holidays, it may help if you take some action. Create new traditions to replace old ones that are no longer pleasant. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage and truly enjoy. Ask others for help with holiday-related tasks. Often family and friends would like to help, if you can tell them what needs to be done. Make your requests specific. If you love pumpkin pie, ask a friend who bakes if they could make an extra one. If sending cards is important to you, perhaps a neighbor would take them to the post office for you. Grandchildren usually love to put up decorations or wrap packages. Make that big holiday dinner you have always prepared a "potluck."
If shopping is difficult for you, consider ordering gifts from catalogs, or buying tickets to concerts, plays, or sports events by telephone. Make a charitable donation in the recipient's name. Give a gift certificate to a shop or restaurant that the recipient will enjoy.
For the person with AD, maintaining a familiar routine of sleeping, eating, and carrying out daily activities helps provide stability and security. If you have guests, explain the routine to them in advance, so that they can adjust their own schedules accordingly. When guests are visiting, it may also be especially important for the person with AD to have a break from the activity-a nap in the afternoon, or a quiet place of retreat when the activities become too overwhelming.
If you are buying gifts for a person with AD, consider the types of gifts that will be most useful to them. Videos, magazine subscriptions, comfortable clothing, albums with family photos, tapes or CD's of favorite music are all gifts that can be shared and appreciated. When selecting gifts for someone who cares for a person with AD, services that you can provide throughout the year may be especially appreciated; a dessert once a week, a day-trip to a favorite place, help with house cleaning, a caregiver's day out while you spend time with the person with AD are all ideas.
Although there is no single solution to holiday stress that works for everyone, thinking about what you like and don't like about holidays can help you make a plan that will make your holiday meaningful and enjoyable.
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