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Managing the holidays with a loved one who suffers memory loss

Brandpoint | Dec 8, 2014, noon

(BPT) - The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy when families and friends gather to share each other’s company, revisit fond stories of holidays past and make new memories to last a lifetime. But what if a loved one is no longer able to remember the holidays or the family and friends he has spent them with? What if dementia or Alzheimer’s has robbed a parent or grandparent of the ability to make and cherish new memories?

“More than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s, and the disease particularly impacts caregivers and other loved ones during the holiday season,” says Kelly Scott of Brookdale, which operates more than 550 Alzheimer’s and dementia care communities. “Despite the stress and sadness Alzheimer’s can cause, it is possible to create comfort and happiness for everyone during the holidays.”

Scott offers some advice to help caregivers and families navigate the holidays:

  • Encourage visits, even if your loved one’s memory loss makes visitors uncomfortable. Socialization is important for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia – and for the people who take care of them. Prepare guests for the changes in your loved one, especially if the visitors have not seen him or her in a while.

  • Encourage reminiscing and storytelling of favorite holiday memories and traditions. Often, long term memories are the strength of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Telling stories of childhood and early adult life can help them feel engaged and purposeful during visits with families and friends.

  • As much as possible, involve your loved in in preparing food, wrapping gifts and other familiar holiday traditions. Participating in familiar routines and tasks will promote their self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose during this special time.

  • If possible, plan to have family gatherings and activities at home, in surroundings familiar to your memory-impaired loved one. Holiday travel can be stressful for everyone, but it can be especially confusing and upsetting to people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Receive visitors early in the day when the person is less likely to feel fatigued, and watch for signs that your loved one is tiring – such as irritability, confusion or agitation.

  • Eating out is possible, but it’s best to make reservations so you can avoid a long wait, and you should check out the menu online before you go to ensure your loved one has dining options. Avoid noisy restaurants or buffets that offer too many options that might confuse your loved one. Dine in smaller, more manageable groups.

  • Avoid situations that can cause confusion or frustration for people with memory loss, such as large crowds of people who will expect your loved one to remember them, loud conversations or loud music, unfamiliar surroundings and lighting that is too bright or too dark.

  • Take care of yourself. Caring for someone with memory loss is time-consuming and stressful. It’s OK to accept help, especially during the holidays when you may experience physical and emotional exhaustion. If family members want to help, give them specific ideas for how they can aid you.

“Caregivers provided more than 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s or dementia in 2013,” Scott notes. “Their financial contribution is valued at $220 billion, but their contribution of love, patience and understanding is beyond measure. Everyone should be able to enjoy the holidays, both caregivers and their loved ones.”

To learn more about Brookdale, visit www.brookdale.com/home.

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