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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

LeBlanc: An Alzheimer's holiday

Special to The Hernando Today


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Alzheimer's caregivers sometimes are overcome by an overwhelming sense of loneliness. More often than not this is caused because their social world has collapsed; they feel trapped in a domain of solitude.

Unfortunately such emotions, including depression, can be stronger during the holidays. Caregivers' friends are out enjoying the festivities, Christmas parties or traditional family activities. Unfortunately for the caregivers, it is likely their holiday plans will be disrupted simply because Alzheimer's patients cannot be taken out of their daily routine. Even set-in-stone family traditions have become too much for them.

Like everybody else, caregivers have extra errands to run in what feels like a shorter period of time - typical holiday madness.

Dear caregivers, if this all sounds familiar, I'm certain you'd rather not dwell too long on the downside. Instead, here are some steps that can be taken so that you and your loved one can enjoy the holidays:

First, try to hold the family celebration in a familiar environment. Taking patients to another family member's dwelling can prove too confusing for them. This could devastate everyone's holiday. I suggest celebrating quietly in the comfort of your beloved one's own home.

Second, make sure to tone down the decorations. Blinking lights and large holiday displays will overwhelm the tranquility of a "Silent Night." Just the fact that you moved some furniture around to set up a Christmas tree could have them believing they're not in the same house anymore.

Third, once guests have arrived; refrain from having everyone visiting with the patient at once. Talk with the family ahead of time. Keep traffic to a minimum. Trying to recognize too many faces at once or the sounds of multiple voices all talking at the same time can become extremely upsetting. If possible, limit gatherings to daytime hours. Visiting at night when his or her mental confusion is more pronounced makes no sense.

Holidays bring extra stress for everyone. Don't wear yourself down. If you need help with the extra holiday chores, please don't be afraid to ask for help from a family member or friend.

It's important to understand that every dementia patient is different. I know some who absolutely love the holidays and get excited about the Christmas season! I never would want to take that away from them, but in the later stages of this disease, this seems to be an exception.

The main thing is this: Try to relax and enjoy the season. Hopefully everything will remain peaceful. Just do the best you can.

After all, the numbers of seasons you have left to share with your precious loved one are becoming fewer. Even if you celebrate the day, just the two of you, at least you're together. To my way of thinking, this is actually the most essential issue.

Someday, despite all that loneliness, you might long for the days when your loved one still was with you.

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