Dementia and Dysfunction During the Holidays

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • When I hear people say, "I hate the holidays", I usually find out it's because they have a little PTSD left over from too many holiday horrors of the past. They dread feeling obligated to spend time with their extended dysfunctional family (does anyone come from a completely NON-dysfunctional family?) and they worry about whose going to be bickering and offended this year. Then what gifts aren't going to be appreciated, what drama and trauma will occur-and they walk on eggshells trying to prevent old wounds from opening up and spilling out all over the dinner table. Not only is the glass not half full, when it comes to the holidays-they say, "What glass?"

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    I always say I understand how they feel, because when I was a teenager my father got into a heated argument with his own brother-just as Mom set the turkey down in front of him to start carving. It got so intense (nose-to-nose and nearly coming to blows) that my father ended up throwing his brother and the wife and three kids out of the house right then and there-without a single bite. Didn't matter that they had just driven all way down from Seattle to San Francisco to be with us for the holidays! Of course, the incident was never discussed or referred to again, but was pushed under the carpet with so many other unpleasant holiday fiascos, deeper into our subconscious, until voila-dread of the holidays.


    So if you have anyone in your life who is difficult now, don't think ignoring the behavior will make it go away. Be brave and politely and firmly set boundaries and limits about what is acceptable-again and again if necessary. "Love you, but when you are ready to talk nicely to me, I'll be back." Please don't condone and reinforce it, because when that person becomes an elder (and probably develops a dash of dementia on top of engrained bad behaviors) you will have a very volatile situation. I know what I am talking about, because this is exactly what happened to my father and our family-and I have received thousands of emails from other families who have been through the same thing.


    But if my advice is too late and you are spending the holidays with a challenging elder who has always been difficult, be sure to watch close for odd or over-the-top behaviors that seem intermittently illogical or irrational-which might signal dementia starting. Discreetly write these behaviors down, keep track, and remember that with EARLY diagnosis and treatment, you can delay the need for full time help and nursing home care.


    You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at

Published On: December 27, 2007