“Crazy busy. Can’t believe my list—it just gets longer.” This is the “carol” that plays through so many heads. For all the joys of the holiday season, it can be a frustrating time for caregivers and a frightening and confusing time for seniors with dementia or who suffer from chronic illness. Making the holidays enjoyable for an older adult in your life is not impossible, though. You need a plan to help you meet the mental, physical, and emotional needs of those you’re caring for. Home Care Assistance’s gift to you is a few strategies.
Organize calm activities. Rushing around doing errands can be very draining and can lead to agitation in people with dementia. Reminiscing about past memories and experiences of the holidays can be calming and enjoyed one on one or with just a few people. Picture albums, family videos, and favorite holiday music can bring memories to the surface, even in people with impaired cognitive ability. Reviewing traditions and recalling one’s place within them is a way of affirming our lives. Seniors actively do this to cement meaning and legacy, according to researchers at the University of California-San Diego’s Stein Institute for Research on Aging.
The holidays can tire even the most energetic people. Be sure to monitor changes in temper and attitude. A loud family party may cause overstimulation and lead to irritability and withdrawal. On the day of a big event, try to schedule down time and use soothing music to help maintain a soothing atmosphere or bring on a nap. During the party, have a quiet room for an escape from the party.
If holiday celebrations will be in the home of a person with dementia or vision problems, try to keep furnishings in their usual places. A new arrangement of familiar objects can be very disorienting and agitating to a person struggling to adapt to more noise and people in their environment than is typical. If you’re goingto someone else’s home for a gathering, ask that throw rugs, wires, and other tripping hazards be removed, especially if your loved one uses a walker or cane.
Choose appropriate activities for your loved one.Keep the setting low-key for an easily upset person. If a small gathering is best, host several gatherings with just a few people for cookies and cocoa, rather than have the whole family over at once. If a car ride is soothing, go for a drive to look at holiday lights. Simple crafts with grandchildren at your senior’s best time of day might be a better activity than a chaotic evening party.
Include your loved one in preparations when possible. We all love to be needed. Choose simple activities which don’t have time constraints, such as setting the table, folding napkins, and arranging flowers.
Stick to medication schedules and watch for medication interactions with food or alcohol.Eating delightful foods is typically a big part of family traditions; adding unusual things to a chronically ill senior’s more delicate condition can cause problems with digestion and absorption of medication. Check with a pharmacist about drug and food interactions if you are unsure about any of your family’s favorite dishes. For example, licorice, a common treat at holiday time, interacts with Lasix and Warfarin/Coumadin, drugs intended to reduce risk of stroke. The affects of alcohol may be magnified in older adults, as their metabolism is slower and digestion is less efficient. If your loved one is on a special diet, take their food along and serve on the same holiday dishes everyone else is using.
Depression may be lurking. The holidays can also be a time of depression due to isolation and ruminating on losses. Watch for signs of depression, such as withdrawal and despondency, and seek a licensed psychologist’s advice if concerned. Visit seniors to help alleviate isolation. Help them bundle up and go out doors during daylight hours. Even a walk around the block, in sunshine, can lift spirits. Season affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression is made worse by reduced exposure to sunlight.
If you need a break from caregiving, the at-home caregivers at Home Care Assistance Lincoln can help with everything from shopping and other holiday tasks to caring for your loved one 24 hours a day. We understand you may need respite—a rest from daily requirements can help a person comeback refreshed. We have well-trained and supervised caregivers who love to help seniors. Call us at 402-261-5158.