The holidays are upon us!  As a mid-December baby, I naturally consider my birthday the beginning of the Christmas season! However, as far as the start of the holiday season, I concede to Thanksgiving. Nothing makes me break out into a full-scale grin as much as the memories of Thanksgiving around my parent’s dining room table.  Sadly, I have heard from more than one person about how they dread “going home” for Thanksgiving.  I can understand that normally strained relations and opposing political beliefs fueled by alcohol can lead to an unpleasant “round the table evening.  Now add the additional strain when a dementia patient is present.

If you are a caregiver, I have a few ideas that might help you  not only get through, but enjoy the holidays with your LO. Some of my ideas may not be appropriate for your LO. A lot depends on the progress of his dementia. (I use “he” because of my LO).

  1.  Lighten up.  “But it’s our tradition!”  Start new traditions if the old one doesn’t work right now in the present.  You may have hosted Thanksgiving since forever, but his year might not be the right year. Consider handing off the location to another relative or friend and take a favorite side dish or dessert.  A coupe of advantages: you don’t have to clean the kitchen and your LO won’t be totally confused and worn out by the end of the evening.  Consider that you now have a built in reason for a quick exit when someone starts proselytizing. I’m sure your hostess will love to put a “to go” platter together for you both. If, for some reason, you are hosting the big dinner, assign a family member or hire someone to care for your LO before diner.  You can’t and shouldn’t try to do it all.  You are NOT Superwoman(man),
  2. Long distance travel:  it can be done, but requires planning. If you are driving a long distance (anywhere from 2-6 hrs.) be prepared to add an hour or two to the trip. It’s not just additional bathroom stops, but your LO will become bored or need to stretch. Take water, lots of various snacks (fruit, sandwiches, cookies, etc.) and “sing-along” music. I don’t advise driving if it requires stopping overnight before you get to your destination.  It will be confusing enough if you are staying overnight at your final destination. There is also the option of staying home.  You don’t want to be caught in a snow storm while driving to or from your holiday dinner.  We once had to stay an extra day because the Pennsylvania Turnpike was closed due to snow.  Dealing with a bored and agitated dementia patient was not fun for anyone.
  3. Air travel.  It can be easier than car travel but still requires planning.  Even if your LO is ambulatory, ask the airline for a wheelchair. We all know that if we land at one gate, the next gate for our connecting flight is going to be on the opposite side of the airport. Your LO should not have to hustle to get there.  Take ONE small carry on and check the suitcase(s).  You might be the one pushing the wheelchair. If so, you do not want to struggle with two carry on bags and a purse or briefcase.  An finally….
  4. DO NOT FOEGET MEDS!  In addition to regularly prescribed medication for your LO, I strongly advise you talk to his doctor about prescribing a mild antianxiety med.  These are frequently prescribed for folks who have flying anxiety.  We once traveled to San Francisco from Charlottesville, and I was concerned about how he would behave on a five hour flight. His doctor prescribed a mild anti-anxiety med and it made the hike through the Atlanta airport and the flight bearable for him, and for me!  It’s also important to understand that he will be disoriented in a hotel room or someone’s guest room. I forgot to give him his anti-anxiety when we stayed in a hotel for a wedding a few years ago. In the middle of the night he woke me up saying we “had to get out of there.” He had attempted to put on street clothes over his night clothes and was pacing the room. It took a long time to settle him. I did not forget to give him the anti-anxiety the second night. We both slept much better.
  5. Enjoy your holidays with your LO and remember to simplify, simplify, simplify!  With love and hope, Jane