Someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can become easily anxious, agitated and even aggressive, especially if they are in unfamiliar environments. It's important to keep them in comfortable, familiar surroundings and established routines to prevent these feelings and behavior from taking hold. Of course, with the holiday season in full swing, normal routines and settings are being thrown into festive chaos. The question now becomes how to celebrate the holidays with joy and peace while minimizing agitation, and how to deal if it occurs. Here are some tips.
a) Adjust your expectations. The stage of Alzheimer’s or dementia that a person has will determine largely how they participate in holidays. Traditions might have to be adjusted. If they are prone to agitation at a certain time of day ie. evening, perhaps open presents or have a gathering earlier in the day.
b) Set the tone, get their attention and state your message clearly, listen. The holidays are happy and festive. Speak calmly and pleasantly with the person. Get their attention by reducing distractions like turning off the radio or TV, closing blinds etc. Address them by name, identify yourself and your relation to them. Communicate clearly using simple words and sentences. Get on their level and maintain eye contact. Use nonverbal cues; a calm, reassuring vocal tone; and gentle touch to help convey your message. Ask simple questions, keeping answers often to yes or no.
c) Keep a familiar environment. Gentle holiday music, reduced distractions. Maintain as much of a familiar routine as possible. Keep family pictures and other keepsakes where they can see them. Reminisce with them. Ask questions about their lives that rely on long term memory.
d) Be patient. If they get agitated, redirect and reassure them. When doing holiday activities, break them down into little steps. It’ll be easier to understand and they can participate more. If they get anxious or agitated, redirect to other subjects or activities ie. suggest going for a walk instead.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be stressful, especially during the holidays. Take a deep breath. Be patient. You’ll do great and enjoy a lovely holiday.