Overcoming Stress: Dealing with Alzheimer’s during the holidays

She put her hand to the window, feeling the icy frost clinging to the other side.  Another Christmas season, another joyous month that wasn’t feeling quite so joyous anymore.  She struggled to remember who was coming for Christmas this year.  Was it all her kids? Or just some?  What about the grandkids?  She couldn’t remember quite how many she had.  She sighed and dropped her hand.  Turning around, she caught her husband staring at her from the other room.  Worried, always worried.  It was tiresome being worried about all the time.  The presents sat under the tree, all wrapped and beautiful.  Well, not as beautiful as she would have wrapped them, but it seemed her husband didn’t think her capable of that this year.  Maybe, just maybe, Christmas would be a good day.  Maybe she’d remember everyone’s names and why they were all there. Her hand gripped the chair in front of her, knuckles turning white with tension.  

Tom watched her from across the room.  What was she thinking?  Was it a good day or a bad one?  He knew she was worried about the holidays this year.  More often than not these days, she couldn’t remember most of the basics.  And he knew between her stress and all of the kids’ anxiety over her not remembering, it would be a difficult few days.  For the first time in his life, he wished they could just cancel Christmas.  It wasn’t worth it.  Better to just get on with life like they’d been doing every day lately, one step forward, little by little.  Christmas just posed a reason for everyone to have expectations and memories.  And big groups tended to stress Genevieve out.  He sighed and looked at all the presents under the tree.  Presents that he’d picked out and clumsily wrapped.  He was sure his kids would notice the difference in the quality of the gifts and the wrapping.  Another thing he would need to learn now that she was slipping away.

The holiday season can be a stressful one for those struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones.  Life is out of the normal routine, a lot of people are around, and it’s a time of memory-rehashing and family dynamics that aren’t what they’ve always been.  Remembering this, holding space for the grief and the disappointment, is key to making it through the holidays with dementia.  Though your loved one may not be able to remember your name or who you are to them, they can sit with you.  They can bring the gift of their presence, and laughter is a universal experience that takes no memories.  

In order to not just make it through the holidays when dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, but to actually enjoy it, the key is to prepare for what it will be.  Don’t hold high expectations, don’t try and get your loved one to remember.  Talk, laugh, and sit together.  Remember that you are the one carrying on the legacy they’re leaving behind, even if they don’t remember that legacy.  Remember it for them.  

And, of course, everyone can enjoy twinkling lights, hot chocolate, and warm blankets by the fire.