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Begin Senior Holiday Celebrations with Planning

Family preparing table for holiday dinner
Set realistic expectations. Consider both what the individual with dementia is capable of and what you, as a caregiver, can handle given your demanding role.

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For families whose senior loved ones struggle with afflictions, holidays can be challenging times. But, with a little planning and support, the festivities can still be special. Setting realistic expectations is a key to eliminating stress.

Q. I am the primary caregiver for my 85-year-old father, who has Alzheimer’s disease and now doesn’t recognize some family members. His 81-year-old brother suffered a stroke and just recently returned home from a rehabilitation facility, but is doing well on his own. How can I arrange our holiday gatherings so they can enjoy the time with our family without seeing them — and myself — getting more stressed out than I am already?

It may be difficult to look forward to the holidays when a beloved family member is not himself. Your holidays will be doubly challenging, but they can still be special for your family if you try to limit what you do.

We looked to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America for suggestions about how to engage your father:

Communicate concerns. In advance of the holidays, be candid with family and friends about your loved one’s condition and your concerns, and enlist their support. Use this season of giving as an opportunity to discuss sharing family responsibilities and to strive for family togetherness.

Set realistic expectations. Consider both what the individual with dementia is capable of and what you, as a caregiver, can handle given your demanding role. Then, put celebrations into manageable proportions. This can help decrease stress and head off feelings of depression that stem from unrealistic expectations, both for you and your loved one.

Adapt family gatherings. Since crowds, noise and altering routines can aggravate confusion and other behavioral problems, revising your get-togethers may be in order. For example, instead of entertaining the whole clan, limit the number of attendees at a holiday dinner or spread out several smaller gatherings on different days.

Pare down traditions. With round-the-clock caregiving, it may not be feasible to juggle all of your religious and ethnic observances. You can still keep traditions alive; just reduce their number to avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Ask your loved one which traditions to choose, since it will be another way to involve him.

As for your uncle, you should talk with his physician and get an indication of how much he can do. Discuss with your siblings and other family members how much you think your uncle should try to do, based on the doctor’s recommendations. Remember that your uncle may be feeling as if he is strong enough to do more, but that could be a dangerous risk. Let him know that what you’re doing is based on a doctor’s recommendations and in his best interests. Then stick to your plan. Even a short time together might be very special for your father and his brother.

Why not enlist some extra help as well? There’s no better time of year to seek respite than the holidays. Consider asking a friend to stay with your father so that you can make holiday preparations – or, better yet, relax and enjoy this festive time of year. If you don’t have help, call the local Home Instead® office. Respite assistance is one of the organization’s most requested services.

This Home Instead website might be helpful, too:

Last revised: November 29, 2011

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