Alzheimer’s Association offers holiday tips for families living with the disease

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – We’re in the midst of the holiday season, meaning many living in Alabama are traveling to see loved ones over the next few days. The season is a time of celebration, but can also be stressful, especially for those fighting a long health battle, like an individual with Alzheimer’s.

More than six million people across the U.S. Are living with Alzheimer’s, and for some, the holidays can be an overwhelming time, especially if there’s a lot of change.

“With the holidays, there tends to be a lot of activity, and a person living Alzheimer’s Disease or another Dementia cannot keep up with multiple conversations and multiple things going on, and its just overwhelming and can be too much for them,” Dr. Renee Harmon said.

Dr. Harmon is a volunteer community educator with the Alzheimer’s Association. She says if possible, build the celebration around the day-to-day schedule of the loved one living with Alzheimer’s; and maybe consider spending the day in a setting that’s already familiar to them, that way they’re comfortable. Even if people unfamiliar to them join later on, the environment is still easy to navigate.

“Even if it is familiar to your loved one, it may not be familiar at that time so its always good to have a plan A, plan B, or plan C,” she said.

Her advice is to have a safe room in mind where they and their caretaker can get away to relax and re-coup for a few minutes.

Harmon said if you do need to travel, the primary caregiver should stick right next to them every step of the way. An airport can be disorienting and may be anxiety-inducing for some, so she says be communicative, sit with them on the flight and avoid tight connections if possible to keep the timeline stress-free. She said it’s also important to be up-to-date with the latest COVID protocol and be ready to explain that to the loved one.

“Be flexible and make adjustments as you can,” she said. “If you know they do better in the morning, by all means travel in the morning, take frequent stops and breaks if you need to.”

She said families of course should enjoy their time visiting with one another, but to keep in mind, a disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia is constantly evolving, so watch for any shift that could signal that relative could be getting uncomfortable.

“Be aware of your loved one at all times. Even if you’re in a familiar place, surrounded by your family, they haven’t necessarily been with your loved one so they may not realize the cues your loved one with dementia is giving you. You know that person best,” Dr. Harmon said.

For those who may not see the loved one often, she says don’t be scared to stir up a conversation. Her advice to not risk confusion is to simply call them by their name, introduce yourself, and talk to them one-on-one.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 hotline available to those concerned with any changes they may be noticing in their loved ones. That number is 1-800-272-3900. You can find more information about the hotline here.

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