10 Tips for Navigating the Holidays and Alzheimer’s

A Place At Home Caregiver

Taking care of a loved one who has Alzheimer’s this holiday season? While being a caregiver is both challenging and rewarding, the holidays bring some special challenges and require a prepared, proactive approach.

Here are 10 tips to help you navigate the holidays while caring for someone with Alzheimer’s:

1. Find Ways Your Loved One With Alzheimer’s Can Be Involved

Just because your loved one has Alzheimer’s Disease doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can’t be involved in the holiday celebrations. Even if it’s something simple like packing holiday tins with cookies, assisting in decorating or wrapping gifts, or signing and sending greeting cards – it can mean a lot to the person doing it.

2. Write A Holiday Wish List 

Some holiday gifts can be inappropriate or even dangerous for someone who has Alzheimer’s. So, take the time to create a wish list for your loved one this season. Get ideas from your loved one and others who know him/her, cross off anything that wouldn’t be a good idea given your loved one’s condition – and share the list online. Check out these gift ideas.

3. Let Others Know What To Expect This Holiday Season

Be sure to keep the whole family informed on all developments in your loved one’s Alzheimer’s condition. Let them know what he/she can handle and what he/she can’t. For example, patients with Alzheimer’s tend not to do well in conversations with multiple voices all going at once – one-on-one conversations are best.

4. Maintain Routine As Much As Possible

People with Alzheimer’s generally need to follow a pretty strict routine. It helps them avoid confusion, disruption, and needless stress. Thus, while there will be special events during the holidays, regular day-to-day activities should be maintained at all other times.

5. Consider A Holiday Lunch Or Brunch Instead Of Dinner

Alzheimer’s symptoms may be more prevalent during the evening hours, and it’s just harder on them to have guests over for a dinner party as opposed to earlier in the day. See if you can have people visit for a holiday lunch or brunch at Mom or Dad’s house instead of the (usually) more traditional dinner gathering. Or check with the Assisted Living community as sometimes Holiday meals may be offered.

6. Be Creative With Introducing New Holiday Traditions

Most of us tend to get stuck in a holiday rut, as it were, and the very thought of changing old holiday traditions may seem unsettling. But new traditions can be founded that accommodate the family member with Alzheimer’s and the fact you are spending a lot of time caring for him/her. Watching a favorite holiday movie together or meeting at a special restaurant are some examples.

7. Simplify The Holidays To Reduce Stress

As a caregiver, you will have less time to deal with the holidays than you may have had in the past. You don’t have to “skip” the holidays, but you probably do need to scale things back a bit. Little things like doing your Christmas shopping online or using gift bags instead of wrapping paper will save time and reduce stress.

8. Know Your Limitations & Ask For Help

Nothing can be more stressful than trying to do what you don’t feel qualified to do or what you simply can’t find the time to do. Ask other family members to help as needed and go to professionals for timely assistance and for help with anything outside your field of expertise.

9. Consider Holiday In-Home Care

You may not want to have your loved one move into a senior living community, or at least not yet while their condition is not too far along. De-stress the holidays by hiring in-home care and giving your loved one some special attention while you run errands. Contact A Place At Home – Omaha to learn how we can help your loved one during the holiday season and beyond where needed.

10. Join An Online Support Community

Finally, 10 tips are never enough – you need more! So be quick to join an online Alzheimer’s caregiver support community or talk with other caregivers to “pick their brains” for ideas and find resources, support, and encouragement!

In the end, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming for you and your loved one with Alzheimer’s. Remember that regardless of any memory issues your loved one lives with, it’s still important to include them in holiday events.

Understanding the Potential Link Between Stress and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a frightening type of dementia that causes issues with memory, thinking processes, and behavior.

The symptoms generally start slow and gradually worsen over time and increasingly interfere with the patient’s day-to-day tasks and relationships.

Studies into the causes and cures for Alzheimer’s has been ongoing for decades, and while no single cause has been determined, recent studies have uncovered some things that can increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. One of those things is stress.

Stress and Alzheimer’s Disease

One of the first studies into the linking of stress and Alzheimer’s began in 2012 by the University of Southhampton in the United Kingdom. Members of that research team undertook a three-year study investigating how chronic stress impacts both people with ongoing mild cognitive impairment and people of a control group that had no reported memory issues. 

A more recent study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine has determined that stress connected to both traumatic childhood and adulthood experiences can cause the brain to age more rapidly than that of a person without a history of such negative experiences.

The results of the study were presented at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference and the research itself covered 1,300 individuals in their 50s and their performance on a variety of memory and thinking tests. The conclusion determined that stressful events could age the brain by at least four years. 

The Basics of What is Stress

Stress occurs when a person’s body is forced to respond to a situation the mind deems dangerous. Common symptoms of stress include tense muscles, increased sweating, and pounding heart. While these immediate symptoms generally fade once danger passes, some individuals may continue to experiences feelings of stress.

Such ongoing feelings and symptoms are known as chronic stress, and as studies have shown, chronic stress can be very serious and have severe, permanent effects on the individual mentally, physically, and emotionally.

How Stress Causes Physical Changes to the Brain

The hormone that causes many of the symptoms of stress is known as cortisol, often referred to as the ‘stress hormone’. Cortisol is one of the primary hormones involved in a body’s ‘fight or flight’ response and when it’s released due to stress, it’s what causes those symptoms of increased blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate.

A person who has chronic stress has chronically high cortisol levels which is what research has shown to be associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, and memory loss.

Physical Changes to the Brain Stress Causes:

  • Lost brain cells
  • A reduction in brain size
  • Decreased activity in the pre-frontal cortex
  • Disruption of certain synapses that regulate social skills and cognitive functions
  • Increased activity in the brain area that regulates anxiety

Taking Control Over Lifestyle Factors

While studies have certainly provided enough evidence to show that memory loss and dementia-specific diseases like Alzheimer’s have a connection to stress, particularly chronic stress and stress related to traumatic events—there has been no definitive evidence showing a direct linkage.

However, what has been shown is that taking control of certain lifestyle factors can reduce a person’s risk of developing such ailments. Therefore, it is in your best interest to minimize stress-inducing activities and assist your senior loved ones with lowering their stress.