Preparing for the Approach of the Holiday Season With Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Since it’s the start of autumn, it’s time to think about the holidays. Although most people will think about shopping for gifts, I really think it is important to think about family gatherings that will happen in the next few months. Especially if you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease who resides in a nursing home, you and your family members need to start talking now about your holiday plans.

    Why? Well, let me use my family’s experience. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in September, 2005. Because of her severe lung disease, Mom needed skilled nursing so the decision was made to move her to a nursing home near me. The security of being in one place when combined with regular nursing care allowed her health to stabilize, but she continued to mentally deteriorate.
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    Because of this situation, my family decided to celebrate Thanksgiving at my house last year. My father came down from West Texas while my brother and niece traveled from Colorado. We decided that my brother and niece would bring Mom over to my house mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving and then be responsible for driving her back to the nursing home after an early dinner.

    Mom’s visit went well, although she couldn’t follow conversations and rarely spoke. She sat in one of the living room chairs with her dog in her lap the entire afternoon. Dinner also was uneventful; everyone talked (except for Mom). And my brother and his daughter drove her back to the nursing home in time for her regular medications to be given.

    So, this sounds like the end of a happy holiday, right? Well, not totally. My father, brother and niece headed for their respective homes the next day. As for my mother, she spent the next few days very agitated. Turns out that the change of location (even though she was surrounded by loving family members in a place where she had visited before) caused her to have a negative mental reaction.

    This situation forced me to have a difficult discussion with my family right before Christmas when everyone would be congregating again at my home. I told my father and brother about Mom’s reaction following Thanksgiving. I said that as a family, we needed to decide whether we should bring Mom to my home for Christmas; furthermore, that decision needed to be based on what our family (i.e. my father, brother and I) needed psychologically. If we decided to bring Mom to my home, we needed to realize that she would probably have another negative mental reaction for several days after Christmas. However, if we felt like we needed one more Christmas together as a family, we should bring her to my house.

    My brother especially felt strongly that he wanted Mom included in the Christmas activities, and my father concurred. I did, however, suggest that we not have her present when we opened gifts since I believed Mom would have a negative reaction since she couldn’t obtain gifts for family members. Instead, we agreed that we would tell Mom that the only gift that we wanted from her (and that we wanted to give her) was everyone’s presence (which was true). With those ground rules in place, we went with the same plan as Thanksgiving. And we had the same exact result, including Mom’s reaction on the days following Christmas.

  • This year, my family will have the conversation again. However, Mom has declined mentally and physically at such a rate that I do not think traveling the short distance to my house will be possible. Therefore, I am going to encourage my father, brother and niece to take the holidays to Mom. I want to see if we can find a place at the nursing home where we can share dinner and spend time with her.
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    Learning to deal with the impact of Alzheimer’s Disease on family dynamics is challenging enough on a day-to-day basis. Add the holidays into the mix, and you have additional emotional challenges that are going to affect every family member who plans to be present. So I’d encourage you to start now in having conversations about how best to have a holiday season that brings joy to everyone, but also doesn’t negatively impact your loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Published On: September 28, 2006