Alzheimer's Disease Doesn't Take a Holiday

The bright lights, big crowds and bustle that make the holidays fun for most of us often do just the opposite for people with Alzheimer's and those who care for them.

Geriatrics physician Dr. Cindy Carlsson, an Alzheimer's disease researcher at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says that Alzheimer's patients may feel a sense of loss during the holidays, while caregivers can become frantic trying to keep up with holiday traditions and caring for their loved ones at the same time. Carlsson has advice on making the holidays more enjoyable for everyone:

Follow a routine. Sticking to a routine can reduce the stress on the patient, caregiver and family. "Holidays are anything but routine, yet a routine is the best way to be kind to the patient," Carlsson says. "Make sure the day is as normal as possible by providing meals at the same time they usually are."

Help your loved one remember. Alzheimer's patients can become frustrated when someone tries to challenge their memories with questions like, "Do you remember me?" and "Do you remember what we did last summer?" Advises Carlsson, "Regardless of how close you are to the person, introduce yourself. You could also update them on your activities so that they don't have to ask questions." Carlsson says reminiscent therapy can be effective. She suggests going through old family photos with your loved one. In addition, consider asking guests to wear name tags.

Involve your loved one in activities. "We recommend that you involve an Alzheimer's patient with straightforward activities like wrapping gifts, folding napkins or simple crafts," says Carlsson. Activities can provide mental and physical stimulation.

Take care of the caregiver. The best gift for a caregiver can be the gift of time and respite. The typical stress of caring for an Alzheimer's patient can become even more overwhelming during the holidays. Carlsson says you can help a caregiver by offering to give them some time off.  Families can prepare a plan to share the caregiving. For caregivers who will be hosting the holiday get together, Carlsson suggests smaller gatherings or even a potluck.

Source: University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health