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Holidays can be joyful . . . and laden with stress

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Submitted by Rita Hodges

End-of-the-year holidays and happy families make picture-perfect images for advertising and popular entertainment.

But in real life, the holiday season may be more stressful than joyous, according to Dr. Andrew Crocker, Texas AgriLife Extension Service program specialist in gerontology and health.

This is especially true for families facing their first holiday season after a loved one’s diagnosis of dementia (which can include such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s) or move to a live-in care facility, such as a nursing home.

These major changes in a loved one’s life may leave family members concerned about the best ways to celebrate.

Many families struggle with the question of whether or not to take their loved one out of the facility to celebrate together. 

While it might be fine for some patients, for others it could be a very traumatic experience.

To help make these decisions a little less stressful, consider the following suggestions:

If a family member has recently been placed in a live-in care facility, consider how well he or she is adjusting to the new surroundings.  

How much does he or she miss living in old familiar surroundings?   

Talk with the facility staff to see how they feel your loved one has adjusted to the new surroundings.  

Also, trust your instincts. 

Do not put yourself, your family, or your loved one into an uncomfortable situation.

Check out other options to celebrate the holidays.  

Will the care facility celebrate the holidays with special events, and if so, can non-resident family members participate?  

Most places tend to be accommodating to family members, especially during the holidays.

Discuss the situation with the family member to make clear what is happening.  

Make sure it’s understood that a visit to the family home will be just that—a visit—and not a chance to move back.

If the loved one has some form of dementia, keep a familiar routine.  

Predictability is a very important aspect in the life of a person with dementia.  

You and your family should try to adjust your schedules so that you all may celebrate together but still preserve the loved one’s schedule.

Plan family events for daytime hours.  

In dementia, confusion often occurs as the day goes on—a condition known as ‘sundowning.’  

For this reason, you may want to plan your holiday celebration earlier in the day.

Keep things simple.  

Make sure holiday decorations aren’t too elaborate, which can be distracting and frustrating to someone with dementia.  

You may want to have some decorations that hold some family memories—something to which your loved one may respond.

Involve the loved one in the celebration. Let him or her participate in gift-wrapping and gift-giving, if that’s what the rest of the family will do.

And, no matter how the family decides to celebrate, keep expectations realistic.

No matter what situation you and your family may face this holiday season, remember that much of the stress from holiday celebrations stems from expectations being too high.

Many times family members expect things to be like they have always been before.  

Realizing that you and your family are in a different situation will help reduce the risk of a more stressful holiday season.


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