Alzheimer's Disease and the Holidays

David Roeltgen, MD Health Guide
  • Happy holidays everyone!  Thanksgiving has now come and gone, as has that great shopping day, the Friday after Thanksgiving and some of us are probably giving thanks that these couple of days are over.  Of course if you had a 4-day weekend and it is over, you may or may not be giving thanks, but wishing it would come again!  No matter whether we did or did not give thanks that Thanksgiving was over, during Thanksgiving many of us did give thanks for being with our families. 


    As we get older, so does everyone else.  Therefore, the family members get older.  Consequently, for some of us, we were the elders at the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  For others of us, we observed our elders at the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  For others of us, we just wanted to get away from our elders.  Now matter which group we were in, sooner or later, if not already, the ravages of dementia will intrude into the festivities of this or another holiday, because the elders are becoming “old”.  Why can I say this?  We live longer than ever, and by 80 years old, an average of close to 50% of us will have Alzheimer’s disease and therefore the likelihood of one of the elders being affected by this disease is increasing yearly.

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    What can we do about this?  First, give thanks that we live long enough for this to happen.  It was not all that long ago, that living to 80 years was unusual.  Therefore, we have each other around much longer than we use to.  Second, prepare for aging.  I have discussed this issue on a number of previous occasions.  Preparation for both healthy aging and unhealthy aging is something all adults should do.  Third, support your elders in their attempt to have their successful aging continue during the holidays.  Avoiding too much stress when they are around is helpful.  Avoiding having the senior members of the family doing all the work might also be helpful.  Avoiding excessive alcohol intake if you are elderly (or even if you aren’t!) is also a good idea.  Of course, this is all common sense.  However, as one of my mentors told me many years ago, “Common sense is not always very common.”  Fourth, make sure that the medical issues associated with aging and dementia have been addressed.  If a family member has dementia, are they seeing a health care person in order that they can be treated with one of the medications, if that is appropriate?   If a family member has dementia, are other medical problems, like diabetes and high blood pressure being treated?  Sometimes addressing these issues can be difficult.  All of us who have family members with Alzheimer’s disease have to deal with the issues of independence.  The person with dementia may need to be told to do certain things, but that doesn’t mean he or she wants to hear it, or will necessarily do it without a struggle.  Therefore, a certain degree of perseverance is needed as we deal with our aged relatives and friends.  But, who ever said life would be easy?


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    It has been over a year that I have been writing blogs on Alzheimer’s disease.  I have covered many topics over these months.  However, none are quite as personal as discussing the ins and outs related to holidays with family members.  For each of us this is a very personal time.  We all deal with the pleasures and pains of the holidays in our own way.  For those of us with elders in the family, especially elders with Alzheimer’s disease, we have much to give thanks for during this special season, but we also have much to deal with in trying to make it a special season for all. 


    As we all give thanks in our own way, I hope each of you have a happy holiday, and I thank you for allowing me to continue to communicate with you about this very important topic.

Published On: December 17, 2008