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Holiday Visits: Setting Family Expectations

The holidays are a time of year chock full of family get-togethers. For most, family and holidays go together like milk and Christmas cookies; and while we like to focus on the joys of the season, these gatherings can also be very stressful. Hectic, chaotic days filled with preparation and travel can bring frustration and anxiety to even the jolliest amongst us. With all this hustle and bustle, it’s easy to forget the importance of the season – thankfulness, caring, graciousness and being with loved ones! And for the family of those living with memory care needs, the effects of Alzheimer’s or dementia can complicate gatherings for themselves, as well as the person coping with the disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, caregivers and families can experience an extra dose of stress stemming from a feeling of pressure to uphold previous family traditions, or from a feeling of weariness due to how other family members could react or respond to the recent behavior changes of a loved one with memory or cognitive problems. At Heartwood Homes Senior Living, we do our absolute best to make the holidays feel like ‘home’, but we recognize how stressful and difficult this time of year can be too.

One of the best ways to help minimize those anxieties and stresses is to have an understanding of how to prepare visiting family members on what they should expect. It’s important to address and adjust expectations, explaining to other family members what to anticipate and how it may impact their visit. Reveal any new behaviors of the family member with memory care needs, such as significant weight loss, being in a wheelchair or using a walker, wearing disposable briefs and dealing with incontinence, or any other unpredictable behavior caused by Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Updating family ahead of time allows them to adjust their expectations. If this is their first visit since the person living with memory loss became severely impaired, tell them the truth – their visit may be painful. Rather than focusing on the changes, they can direct their attention to engaging with their loved ones and enjoying their visit. It’s important to participate in honest conversations with family members ahead of time so we can recognize that the meaningfulness of the time spent together matters more than what the person remembers.

Here are some additional helpful tips to help prepare your family for a visit:

  • Plan a time limit. Understand that your loved one may not have the stamina for a longer visit.
  • Identify yourself each visit. With memory loss, understanding that there’s a chance your loved won’t recognize you is important. Introduce yourself by the first name, “Hi Dad, Joe, your son here to visit with you.”
  • Talk slowly and deliberately. Be prepared to repeat things as necessary.
  • Avoid questioning and quizzing. Challenging your loved one with a stream of questions can be unkind and upsetting for them. Instead, give them information.
  • Your presence alone may be enough to bring them joy, peace, and comfort. Memory loss is often confusing and frightening for the person living with the condition. The presence of a loved one regardless of what you are doing is more than enough to provide a sense of peacefulness.

We hope you and your visiting family members are able to share the blessings of this joyous holiday season with your loved ones living with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other memory loss conditions! We encourage providing opportunities for successful visits during the holiday season and hope you’ve found the information here helpful in planning your next visit. Should you have any questions for us here at Heartwood Homes Senior Living, please feel free to call us at 920-955-3131.