Tips for Holiday Gatherings with Family Members with Dementia
For family members caring for someone with Dementia, the holidays can become an incredibly stressful time. Often caregivers feel pulled in many different directions and also have the difficult task of identifying what their loved one can and can’t handle during the busy holiday season.
“Many family caregivers have confided in me that the holidays can become stressful as many relatives may be in town or available to come see the person with dementia and don’t understand the added strain this puts on both the caregiver and the person with dementia,” says Julie Alicki, LMSW, Certified Advanced Dementia Practitioner and Alzheimer’s Support Group Leader at the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan. “For people with dementia, gatherings with a large crowd may be too overwhelming and changes in their daily routines may cause additional confusion and frustration. Often out-of-town family does not understand these realities as they may not be aware of the cognitive changes that have taken place since they last saw their family member.”
Alicki recommends that family members of those with dementia follow the six tips below to help make the holidays more enjoyable for both the person with dementia and their caregiver.
- Practice Patience and Understanding: Those providing care to someone with dementia often are very aware of what may agitate that person or trigger a negative response. Out of town family and friends who do not have the same interaction may not understand why an invitation to attend a gathering is turned down or why their family member with dementia doesn’t recognize them. Practicing patience and understanding with both the caregiver and the person with dementia can make a huge difference. “I tell people to trust that the family caregiver knows what the person with dementia can and can’t handle and don’t try to add guilt about not participating in an event or gathering,” says Alicki. “Also understand that when it comes to dementia a person can have moments of clarity mixed with moments of confusion and it may be frustrating to them as well.”
- Provide Alternatives: The activity or gathering you have planned may be too challenging for someone with dementia. If an invitation is turned down try providing alternatives. Some people with dementia may get agitated in large groups, so offer to meet with that person one-on-one or in a smaller setting. For some, a restaurant may involve too many distractions; perhaps a quieter environment would be best. Talk with the family caregiver to find out what would work for them and be flexible.
- Offer Respite: Caring for a loved one can be extremely rewarding and often overwhelming. Ask the family caregiver if you can provide them with a break while spending time with the person with dementia. For some caregivers this is the greatest gift you could give them for the holidays- some time off! If you are unable to provide them with a break, ask what they do need. Caregivers might be hesitant to ask for help, but may be able to identify an area where they could use help (i.e. doing laundry, cleaning the home or preparing a meal).
- Create Nametags: You may think this sounds silly as everyone in your family knows who people are, but for someone with dementia remembering names can be difficult and may make them anxious or frustrated when they realize they are unable to recall a name. Providing nametags is a simple way to help them feel a part of the festivities and remove that obstacle.
- Designate a Quiet Place: For many individuals with dementia, a loud gathering can be overwhelming and may cause agitation. If possible, provide a quiet room so they can take a break if they need some space away from all the commotion. Or, consider having them in the quiet room and have family members come in one at a time or in small groups to visit. Again, talk to the caregiver to see if this would be a beneficial alternative.
- Be Prepared for an Early Departure: If the person with dementia is having a difficult time at the gathering the caregiver may have to take him/her home earlier than expected. If gift giving is involved in your celebration you may want to do this earlier in the evening in the event that an early departure is necessary.
By making the changes above to your holiday plans you may be able to provide some relief and more enjoyment to your family member or friend with dementia and their caregiver.
For more information on caregiving, support groups, in-home care, and other senior related services, visit www.aaawm.org or call the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan at (616) 456-5664.
Office Closing Early December 11
The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan office will close at 11:15 a.m. on December 11, 2015 to allow our staff to celeberate at our annual staff holiday luncheon. The office will resume normal business hours on Monday, December 14, 2015.
Office Closed April 3, 2015
The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michgian office will be closed tomorrow (April 3, 2015) for Good Friday. We will resume normal business hours on Monday, April 6, 2015. Have a safe and happy holiday!
Agency Holiday Hours
Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day to allow our employees to spend time with their families. We wish you all a very happy holiday season and look forward to continue serving our communities older adults in 2015.
What to Look for when Home for the Holidays
The holidays are often spent with family members, some who don’t see each other the rest of the year. This may be the best time to observe how an older loved one is doing and determine if help is needed in the home.
“Just because a parent or grandparent is of a certain age does not mean they will need help. Often parents or grandparents will not come out and ask for help directly, but there may be indicators that they could use some assistance at home,” says Julie Alicki, Community Living Program Consultant at the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan. “The holidays can be a good time to observe older family members at home, or in your home, to see if there are any concerns about their safety living alone. In-home care is often a viable option to help individuals stay independent in their own home.”
Alicki recommends looking for the following signs that a loved one may need help at home:
- Observe for changes to their appearance or home. Are their clothes clean? Do they seem or appear not to be bathing? Do they struggle with keeping their home clean?
- Take an inventory of medications. Are there more pills in a bottle than should be based on the prescriptions fill date and dosage information? Also look for old or outdated medication.
- What is in the refrigerator? Do they have a lot of old or spoiled food?
- Examine their car and their driving. Are there new dings or dents on the car that would indicate recent accidents? When riding with them do you witness slower reaction times, or other safety issues on the road?
- How are their finances? Do you see late notices/past due or shut off letters or warnings lying around?
- Watch how they walk and get up and down. Do you see them struggling with balance or is going up and down stairs or getting up from a chair difficult for them?
These signs don’t automatically mean someone needs help in the home, but can be good indicators to begin conversations about in-home care options.
“Most older adults want to stay in their own homes as they age and there are a number of choices for them to do so,” says Alicki. “In home care is not just for those who can afford to pay out of pocket, there are programs to help individuals with low incomes stay in their homes too.”
The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan helps older adults and individuals with disabilities live in their homes with independence and dignity. For more information, visit the In-Home Care section on our site, or contact us at (616) 456-5664 or (888) 456-5664.
Holiday Office Hours
The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan office will be closed on December 24, December 25 and January 1, 2014 in observance of Christmas and New Year's Day. We wish you a safe and happy holidays!
Snowflakes, Seniors and Scams
Around the winter months, like all of us, seniors may be more susceptible to scams that prey on persons needing to stay warm or to protect their health during frigid weather. However, during this time older adults can increase their knowledge about how to avoid being taken advantage of and ensure a safe and warm winter season.
Tips for seniors to avoid scams:
- Always ask for information in writing and read documents carefully before signing. When asked to sign a contract, consider taking the document home and read it without stress. If comfortable with the terms and conditions, return the next day with it signed.
- If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. During the winter months many places offer great bargains on items to keep warm and healthy. Unless it is a reputable, familiar business, stay away from deals that are “too good to pass up” and always read the fine print.
- Protect yourself and your medical and financial information. Do not disclose this information over the phone. This has long been a popular tool used by con artists to gain access to personal information. Financial and medical institutions do not ask for this information over the phone.
- Do your research before working with a new organization or individual. Many community resources exist to help seniors advocate for themselves. Contact your local Agency on Aging, the Better Business Bureau, legal assistance programs or family and friends you trust for more information on an organization. If something makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it.
For other ways to combat fraud and abuse, visit the Senior Advocacy in Action Alert and contact your state Representative about pending legislation.