A Family Story: Christmas with Alzheimer’s

The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time, full of family and celebration. But for the millions of people living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia and their caregivers, the holidays can be nothing short of overwhelming. The holiday season brings additional financial strain, more time with families, a disruption in routine and many more unforeseen commitments that can contribute to caregiver stress.A Family Story: Christmas with Alzheimer's

Read the story of how one daughter saw through the holiday stress and found peace with her father’s dementia through the holidays.

Finding Triumph in Tragedy: Christmas with Alzheimer’s

Colleen Carrol Campbell is an author, broadcast journalist and a former presidential speech writer. In a recent post on Maria Shriver’s blog, Campbell opened up about her father’s Alzheimer’s and the impact it had on her family’s Christmas celebration.

Her father, a devout Catholic, loved Christmas and would stay up late putting together toys on Christmas Eve, rising early Christmas morning to watch his children open their gifts. It was a very special time for their family so that when Alzheimer’s came, the changes in Christmas were apparent and devastating.

Campbell shares how she found writings of her father’s favorite saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, who was coping with her own father’s illness. Saint Thérèse found meaning in her father’s illness, seeing that as the importance of earthly possessions fell away, her father was becoming more child-like in his faith, which she believed was making him better prepared for eternity. Similarly, Campbell began to see that her father’s dementia was leading to an increase in his own faith, hope and love despite the progression of Alzheimer’s. She states:

”I realized that Dad’s irrepressible joy – undimmed by Alzheimer’s and particularly apparent during the holidays – could be a Christmas gift all its own, if I could see the season through his eyes and celebrate it at his pace.”

While she admits this did not ease the agony of Alzheimer’s, it did help her bear the burden of the diagnosis, especially around the Christmas season.

A New Way to Celebrate the Holidays

For many caregivers, the holidays can be stressful and a reminder of what Alzheimer’s has stolen.  Here are some great things to remember to help keep your holiday joyful as the season is upon us:

  1. Realize that you don’t need to attend every party you are invited to. Giving yourself permission to say no to social obligations can free up your time and your mind to say yes to relaxing, holiday preparations or spending time with loved ones.
  2. Celebrate small moments of success. Maybe this is the year your Christmas cards don’t go out to 100 people, but instead, they go to your ten closest friends. Maybe this is the year for one tree, instead of three. Finding important traditions that you can keep while toning down extravagance can help save money and time while reducing stress.
  3. Prepare out of town guests and be forgiving when mistakes happen. Try to let visitors know what your loved one is going through and any known behavior issues before they arrive. If guests do or say something hurtful, give grace and try to let it go at least for now.
  4. Include your loved one in holiday preparations and celebrations. It’s the holidays for your loved one too and including them by inviting them to set the table, decorate cookies or wrap gifts are great ways to involve them in the season. In later stages of the disease, a gentle touch or kind word is a great way to let them know they are acknowledged and involved.
  5. Join a support group. Being around people who know what you are going through is crucial to relieving caregiver stress and preventing burnout.

What tips do you have for managing caregiver stress through the holidays? Share them with us in the comments below.

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