Let’s admit it, the holidays are stressful WITHOUT living with dementia. There’s dealing with family, finances, being social, dealing with family, managing expectations, cleaning the house, dealing with family, traffic, emotions (anxiety, depression, etc.), dealing with family. Did I mention dealing with family? And that’s all WITHOUT dementia thrown in to muck things up.
Since family is such a big one, let’s start with that giant ball of wax. So many of us have that Norman Rockwell picture of the perfect holiday meal in our heads or the Hallmark movie where the everyone realizes what’s most important in life and there is peace and happiness in the end. In reality, this is not what most of our holidays look like.
Family is complex. There are so many dynamics and inner workings that come into play and seem even more intense around the holidays. Adding dementia to the mix only makes things more challenging. One thing that can help is to set your expectations and limitations for others early. If making seven dozen cookies is what you’ve done in the past but it’s too much now, select your absolute favorites and ask another family member to make the others. If days of celebration is now too much, focus on the events that have the most meaning. If dinner with the entire family at 5 triggers anxiety for you and your loved one, recommend an early dinner or even a holiday brunch to work around sundowning or other behavioral episodes. Sometimes explaining the “new normal” to family can help them understand the limitations and challenges you’re experiencing and they can adjust with you to make the holiday safe and sane.
Another thing that can help is setting limits and boundaries. Clearly state your limits. If two hours is all the family you can handle, say so. If your loved one needs a “safe room” where they can decompress, take a nap, or just find some quiet time, ask for it. Let them know that there are things you can and can not compromise on. Dementia demands that you take care of you and your loved one. Over stimulation, altered schedules, missed medication, different foods, and poor sleep can all impact your loved one and how they will respond to the holidays. Making your needs very clear and where others need to adapt to meet those needs can help make the holidays more successful.
Remember, your sanity is vital in avoiding holiday hell. Recognizing your needs, your loved one’s needs, and setting boundaries with family to ensure these needs are met can aid in bringing peace and enjoyment to the holidays while living with dementia.