For 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and their families, the holiday season can be especially stressful. However, according to memory care expert Rachelle Blough, with the right preparation, the stress can be greatly reduced and the holidays can be wonderful.
What can families do this holiday season? Blough offers the following advice.
Don’t expect the holidays to be the same as they have always been. Accept that things have changed and adjust your expectations and ideas of what makes a successful holiday. Communicate this with fellow family members and remember to feel proud of yourself for being flexible and realistic.
Large crowds such as those at holiday gatherings can be overwhelming for persons living with memory loss, says Blough. If you can’t avoid a large gathering, she recommends making your loved one feel safe by ensuring someone is with them to offer comfort and support at all times. That companion should be familiar with memory limitations and know how to communicate effectively such as with a hug or gentle touch, not a barrage of questions.
Unfamiliar surroundings also produce unnecessary stress. If your loved one already lives in an assisted living community, consider hosting a small family gathering there.
Blough also recommends the following options:
1. Bring a gift you can wrap together or holiday cards and ask them to help stuff the envelopes.
2. Create a reassurance book for your loved one as a holiday gift. Have pictures and conversation starters about each picture for community staff or family members to use. At the front of the book, place a typed letter in a bold font that lets your loved one know they are safe and loved.
3. Create a talking digital picture frame to play. Your voice talking about each of the pictures will be soothing.
4. Remember the power of music. Play holiday carols and sing with your loved one. Music is a great way to connect with a person with memory loss.
Blough recommends the following resources:
www.alz.org is a wonderful resource for holiday tips and other useful information
1-800-272-3900 HELPLINE is operated by the Alzheimer’s Association and staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
www.alzstore.com offers gift items designed to help people live with every stage of memory loss.
www.shadowboxpress.com - an amazing gift to improve visits with your loved one.
www.sootheze.com - a great way to comfort your loved one
By following these expert tips, the holidays can indeed bring cheerful times and good memories for every member of the 5.4 million American families coping with memory loss.
Rachelle Blough is Director of Resident Programming for Watermark Retirement Communities, a company committed to creating extraordinary communities where people thrive. Watermark operates 31 communities coast to coast, including Rosewood Gardens in Livermore, Calif. For more information, visit www.watermarkcommunities.com.