Tips for Caregivers

Managing Holiday Stress with Alzheimer’s Disease
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For most families, holidays are filled with opportunities for togetherness and sharing, but for a family dealing with Alzheimer's, holidays can also be stressful and filled with special challenges, according to the experts at the Alzheimer's Association.

Approximately 70 percent of those with Alzheimer's disease are cared for at home, so the Alzheimer's Association is preparing for a surge in calls to its 24/7 Helpline during the holiday season.

"Caregivers may feel overwhelmed maintaining holiday traditions while caring for their loved one, and they also hesitate to invite family and friends over to share the holiday for fear they will be uncomfortable with behavior changes in the family member," said Alzheimer's Association's Nicole McGurin, director of clinical services for the Alzheimer's Association, Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter.

In addition to providing 24/7 Helpline assistance, including holidays, the Alzheimer's Association offers the following suggestions to families with a loved one with the disease:

>> Call a face-to-face meeting or arrange for a long-distance telephone conference call with family and friends to discuss holiday celebrations. Make sure that everyone understands your care giving situation and have realistic expectations about what you can and cannot do.

>> Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. If you've always invited 15 to 20 people to your home, consider inviting five for a simple meal. Consider having a potluck dinner or asking others to host the holiday at their home.

>> Share ways to interact positively, including telling family to always say their name and how they are related when speaking with a person with middle and later-stage dementia. Consider having a smaller room available where the person with dementia can talk with one or two family members at a time. Encourage family to reminisce and not ask questions about the near past.

"We recommend that caregivers let family members who are looking forward to a visit know that they may notice some changes like forgetfulness or confused behavior," said McGurin.  "They can tell family and friends that a warm smile and gentle touch on the shoulder is always appreciated even when other things are changing."

For those with questions and concerns about Alzheimer's, call 800-272-3900. The 24/7 Helpline is free and confidential. Information and an online Helpline are available at www.alz.org/MANH.