Navigate the Holidays with Ease (and Less Stress)

Caregiving for a senior loved one is stressful at the best of times – and downright overwhelming at the worst. The same can be said about the holiday season. But neither of these things have to be something you dread. In fact, says Erica Labb, Executive Director of Bridges®  by EPOCH at Westford, there are ways to make both tasks easier and happier, particularly when the two converge.

“The holidays are a chance for family members and caregivers to spend time with one another, share moments with their loved ones with memory loss and celebrate meaningful traditions,” she says. “Even though having a loved one with dementia presents some challenges, that’s no reason you can’t have a wonderful season.” The key is, she says, to give yourself (and everyone else) grace, plan appropriately and be flexible.

“If you get over the idea of having a picture-perfect holiday celebration and instead focus on the meaning of the season and what’s really important, you’ll find that the holidays are a lot more joyful and a lot less stressful,” says Erica. “In fact, the best gift you can give your loved ones is making the most of the moments you have together.”

Here are six ways to help family members, caregivers and other loved ones navigate the holidays with ease, less stress and a lot more merry.

1. Simplify your celebrations. 
You don’t need to go all-out and deck every hall, attend every holiday party or jingle every bell. In fact, doing too much will burn out both you and your loved one with dementia. Take some time to think about the part of the holiday celebrations that are most meaningful for you and your loved one. Is there a treasured holiday ornament that just has to go on the tree? Or a party that you look forward to every year? Pick and choose the things that make the holidays truly special, and don’t sweat the rest. If you only have time to put a few ornaments on the tree, so what? If they’re meaningful to you, they’ll be showcased all the more. Does throwing a huge holiday meal make you tired just thinking about it? Try an afternoon potluck, or ask another family member to host. The season is all about being together and enjoying your time with the people you care about, not focusing on all the trimmings and trappings.

2. Adapt your traditions or start new ones.

When your loved one has dementia, you may not be able to enjoy all the traditions you did in the past. Attending the late-night religious candlelight service may be completely out of the question, for example. Instead of throwing out these traditions entirely, come up with creative new ways to keep their spirit while adapting them to your new normal. If you’re not able to drive several hours to attend the annual family gathering, schedule a video chat so you and your loved one can still see everyone (without having to deal with any travel hassles). Can’t attend the Holiday Pops concert? Stream a concert to your living room and enjoy it from the comfort of your own couch. You can even start new traditions like creating simple decorations, holding holiday movie nights or playing board games.

3. Work around your loved one’s schedule.

Routine and schedules are very important for people with dementia – staying in a routine goes a long way in keeping them happy, comfortable and calm. Mess with their routine too much, and you may find yourself dealing with anxiety, anger or other undesirable behaviors. Instead of trying to change their routine, adjust your holiday event so that they work for everyone – including your loved one. Consider scheduling the holiday meal at lunchtime instead of in the evening. Stick to a normal bedtime and sleep schedule. If you’re doing activities like shopping or a fun event, try to schedule it at a time where your loved one will be at their best.

4. Be flexible. 

Dementia and memory loss can be unpredictable, so it’s possible that your best laid plans may come crashing down. If that’s the case, don’t fret – instead, work with the situation and don’t get frustrated. Your loved one may be fearful, not remember everyone or may simply be in a bad mood. While it’s good to have plans, remember to go with the flow. If you see that your loved one is becoming overwhelmed while you’re doing an activity, find a place where they can rest and recharge. Remember, the holidays aren’t a competition – they’re supposed to be fun. And a little spontaneity never hurt anyone.

5. Spend time reminiscing. 

While Grandma or Grandpa may not remember what last Christmas was like, they may be able to access memories from years ago. A great activity to do with your loved one is looking through photo albums (especially if there are pictures from holidays past). Share your recollections about what you see in the photos, and encourage your loved one to comment on what they see or potentially remember. Another great activity is to go around the room with your family members and have them share favorite holiday memories or traditions.

6. Be in the moment and enjoy the “now.” 
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and worry about the things we “should” be doing. It’s also easy to feel sad or discouraged when your plans don’t go as you would like. But being negative doesn’t just make you into a humbug. It also activates the stress response in your body, which can cause all sorts of issues and send you into a vicious cycle. Instead, take a deep breath and focus on the moment. Think about what you can do instead of what you can’t. Celebrate the moments with your loved one that are good instead of dwelling on the abilities they’ve lost or the things they can no longer do. Remember, the holidays aren’t about perfection. They’re about meaning, joy, family, happiness and love. There are so many things we can’t control when it comes to our loved one’s memory, abilities and health, but what we can control is how we react and celebrate the moments we have together. By being present, celebrating the small things and focusing on what’s important this holiday, we know you and yours can have a very merry one, indeed.

Comprehensive Services

At Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford, we know no two residents are alike. That’s why we’ve designed our services to address the distinct challenges each resident faces. With comfort, safety and happiness as our top priorities, residents receive unmatched personalized attention, no matter the stage of memory loss.

Community Amenities

Bridges® by EPOCH at Westford features a beautiful residential design. Every inch has been thoughtfully designed to enhance the lives of those with memory loss. Soft colors, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life stations are placed throughout the community to create a peaceful and secure environment so residents may enjoy great comfort, familiarity and security.

Contact us today to learn more. 

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