Every year at this time my home is transformed into a warm and cozy Holiday Haven. The furniture is moved to accommodate the Christmas tree. Festive centerpieces and bowls of candy and nuts are added to every table. There are blinking lights, candles and a fire in the fireplace to set the house a glow. Looks wonderful to me….. But to someone Living with Alzheimers or Dementia, it could be very unsettling. If we reside with someone Living with Alzhemeirs…How can we minimize their stress? Which will undoubtingly minimize yours.
First and foremost, plan ahead. You know your loved one better than anyone else. Second, use common sense. Don’t plan a six-course meal for ten people, knowing your loved one is unable to sit for an extended length of time without getting agitated. Thirdly, be flexible. Any Holiday festivity set in stone is no fun anyway. Take your cues from your loved one.
Set your loved one up for success by making a few adjustments to your Holiday grandeur. Remember, the Christmas tree may get knocked down or ornaments may be pulled from its branches. So, shatterproof ornaments usually work the best. Also, keep any heirlooms in places they can be seen but not touched. Don’t forget all the edible items we use as tree ornaments. The strings of popcorn and cranberries, candy canes and cookie dough ornaments are all very tempting. Depending on the “stage” of Alzheimer’s your loved one is currently in, you might want to skip the tree altogether.
There are some other unedible and potentially harmful items you need to keep in mind….. Holiday plants. At some stages of Dementia and Alzheimer’s, items in the hand, go straight to the mouth, this can be very concerning. A few plants that come to mind are poinsettias, mistletoe, holly berries, yew, the Christmas Rose, Jerusalem Cherry, and Amaryllis. All vary in toxicity depending on plant and amount consumed. If in doubt, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222
Now on to one of my favorite Holiday traditions….. Food, food and more food. For starters, maybe that communal bowl of candy or nuts might need to be put out of reach before it all disappears. Back to that six-course meal. Besides the normal finger food appetizers, try modifying your recipes to finger food status. Stuffing in a square pan and cut into bitesize pieces would be great. How about potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces instead of mashed? You and I both know anything wrapped in bacon or puff pastry is scrumptious and easy to eat. Oh, one more thing. Remind your family and friends that if they leave their plate unattended, it may be invaded by the fingers of a passerby enjoying a quick bite.
Most of you who have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia understand the dangers of an unattended candle or fireplace. What about the house lights being turned down low to enhance the twinkle of the Holiday lights? Have you ever noticed how things look vastly different in the dusk and dawn? This may be the same effect inside lighting changes have on your loved one. Their visual perception is already compromised by the Alzheimer’s. Reducing the lighting can cause things to seem stranger than they already appear. Now add to that, blinking lights and spotlights of large figures dancing on the walls. That could be terrifying. Calm and soothing routine lighting is usually the best. So, try to keep the lighting distractions to a minimum for a much more comfortable experience.
You know your loved one better than anyone else. Trust your instincts. Remember to them, you are their safe place. So, enjoy all your loved ones this Holiday season. You are not alone….. You can do this.