November is not only Alzheimer’s Awareness Month but also Family Caregivers Month, two very valued causes to us at Theia Senior Solutions.  As Thanksgiving approaches, we want to offer our admiration and give thanks to the dedicated and compassionate caregivers who are selflessly caring for their loved ones all year round.  Although holidays are seen as a time of cheer, caregivers on the front lines of the fight against Alzheimer’s and dementia know that this can be a heightened time of stress.  Nearly 75 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are somewhat or very concerned about maintaining their own health since becoming a caregiver.  If you are a caregiver, you want to make sure your loved ones are comfortable, but it is also important to take time to care for yourself.  Below are some helpful tips and considerations for caregivers to make the holidays be the best they can be for the caregivers themselves and their loved ones.

1.       Plan ahead – If you are seeing family and friends who you do not see on a regular basis, educate them about your loved one’s condition in advance.  If you are travelling with your loved one to a new setting, a change in environment may have its challenges.  Explaining the plans too far in advance can build anxiety and confusion.  They may not remember and require continuous gentle reminders.  Instead, explain shortly before on the day of or on your way there.  If you are hosting, let your loved one know that day there will be additional people around.

2.       Don’t overstimulate – On the day of, consider showing your loved one pictures of some of the guests that will be in their home.  Asking guests to wear fun holiday name tags can reduce embarrassment or even suspicion upon greeting.  When introductions are made, do this in small batches as to not overwhelm.  Create a calm separate area away from the entrance where one or two people can visit at a time.  Look for signs of over stimulation that may increase stress - this may indicate it is time to break away to a quiet room.   Be wary of “sundowning” or times in the day your loved one tends to be sleepier or agitated.  Listening to calming music or songs that your family may associate with Thanksgiving can evoke memories and set the scene for a calming environment. 

3.       Preparing guests in advance - Sometimes family or friends do not know what to say after “hello” when seeing a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.  Ask them to speak in a calm and slow voice.  If possible, ask them to sit either eye level or below your loved one to reduce feelings of intimidation.  Activities that are reminiscent can make them feel helpful and boost confidence that they are part of the festivities opposed to being a spectator.   For example, folding napkins, setting the table, or mixing ingredients for a dessert together.  Have some puzzles and card games readily available.  If your loved one is less interested in active participation, even watching a familiar generation friendly show on television can promote togetherness and conversation.  Ask guests to bring some old photographs as they are a great tool for conversation starters and enhancing memory.    

4.       Care for the caregiver – To be an active and positive caregiver, you must take care of yourself first.  When it comes to holiday gatherings, be flexible and set realistic expectations.  Consider ways in which traditions can be modified to lessen the multi-taking that goes on during the holiday season.  Even with all the preparation in the world, things do not always go according to plan and that is okay.  Most importantly, remember to take a breath and get a good night’s sleep.   Take some time for yourself this holiday season to identify your limits.  Don’t be afraid to ask a trusted friend or relative for some respite time as a gift. Remember you cannot care for your loved one if you are not physically, mentally and emotionally caring for yourself first.

National Caregivers Month is a time for you to recognize all that you do for your loved ones and remember to take some time to care for yourself too.

“From caring comes courage.” — Lao Tzu