Long-term caregiver, Betty De Filippis, gives her tips regarding her experiences with her mother-in-law, Joan, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2013.

As the disease progressed through four years of caregiving, Betty learned many different techniques that aided — or hindered — Joan’s care. She learned how to help Joan more fully enjoy the holiday season with loving advice from friends, neighbors, and her family physician, 

Keep it Simple

While traditions are wonderful and create happy memories, sometimes the better option — and the most calming for your loved one — is to keep it simple. At times your loved one may have difficulty keeping up with fast-paced or over-stimulating events. “Try to keep visitors to a minimum, or at least spread them out as much as possible,” says Betty. “This could help prevent your loved one from becoming overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. Music is also a great help, as it can lift their spirits as well as help them remember what holiday is coming up.”

Betty also says that offering simple choices is important. “Always ask them if they want to do something, rather than telling them what you want them to do. One time they may want to do it, another time they might not. For instance, if you’re making a craft, ask questions like, ‘Would you like to use orange?’ or  ‘Do you want to cut that, or would you like me to help you?’ Although they may behave differently, they are still a person whose feelings need to be respected.”

Help with gift giving and receiving 

Joan and Betty 2017
Joan and Betty 2017

Betty says that the way your loved one handles how they once gave and received gifts may differ from what you or others are used to.  “To help them carry on as they once did, ask them questions like, ‘Would you like to give a gift to (name)?’ If they don’t have any ideas of what to give, offer suggestions and then help them shop for a gift or perhaps do it for them. They will know, as far as they are capable, that they are giving gifts, and that usually makes them happy.”

She also says, “With gifts from others, again, keep it simple. A few of their favorite things is a great idea. Too much can be overwhelming. If there are a lot of presents, spread them out over time. Maybe even over a couple of days if there are a lot of them. If they appear to be losing interest, stop and do more later. Shoving too much at them can cause anxiety.”

Request help when you need it

It may be necessary to ask your family members to step in when you need a break. It may even require assigning tasks that alleviate your workload so that all of the pressure isn’t on you. “Sometimes I would just ask someone to sit with Joan so I could do the things I needed to do,” says Betty.

Remember to take care of yourself

Of the many challenges that family caregivers must face on a daily basis, perhaps the greatest—and least addressed—is the mental and emotional health of the caregivers themselves. Self-care is often the last thing that caregivers address, especially through the busy holiday season. If you are the primary caregiver, it’s important to recognize any feelings of being burned out or being worn down and overworked as this is a good indication you may need more help as well. Remember to ask for help when you need it and utilize respite care options.

Holidays are meant to be a time to cherish with loved ones. Although your loved one may be “different” than you’re used to, they are still the person they used to be — they are just dealing with a difficult disease. They are doing the best they can in a situation that may be too overwhelming for them to handle. In some cases, they may not even understand what it is you’re gathered to celebrate or why there are so many people there. Check in with them often, read their body language, and respond accordingly. Most importantly, remember to be patient, be kind, and enjoy your time together.

Read Part 1 Here

Dementia Care and the Holidays: How I Helped My Loved One Enjoy the Holiday Season