SAN DIEGO: Christmas with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s can evoke stressfulness and loss gradually replacing joy and merriment. Feelings of love, generosity, and goodwill bring together family members and friends in shared moments and traditions, and that is the key to a merry holiday with someone who has Alzheimer’s.
When mom or dad, grandma or grandpa slowly decline, never to be the same, sharing family traditions gradually change with the loss of memory and self.
ALZHEIMER’S GROWING NUMBERS
Alzheimer’s affects approximately five million Americans and is on the rise due to the increase in the aging population. Currently, there is no cure, though new modalities are offering hope. Though currently considered the sixth leading cause of death in America, the National Institutes of Health believes that it will eventually become ranked as the third leading cause of death.
As Alzheimer’s progress, everyday tasks such as driving a car, paying bills, cooking, grooming, following a conversation, and progressive forgetfulness occur. Holidays, when there are a lot of people and activity can increase symptoms. With the increased activity and people, a person’s behavior may change and could include anger, agitation, anxiety and in some cases violence.
Alzheimer’s attacks the human brain creating the loss of connection between nerve cells as amyloid plaque continues to develop. As a result, neurons will become progressively more compromised and eventually die, taking with them cherished memories.
Normal processes of the physical body will eventually shut down due to the lack of proper signaling from the brain leading to death.
With proper diagnosis by a neurologist, a variety of medications, dietary modifications, and behavioral management will significantly improve quality of life and quite possibly slow down disease progression, though not to a significant degree.
Slowly watching a loved one die so vividly is one of the most tragic emotional impacts facing family members and loved ones.
Over time, there is no escaping the experience of continuous decline while viewing the ravages of this horrible disease.
HOLIDAYS AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Advanced planning of family gatherings is imperative to meet the ever-changing needs created by the disease. These needs will change as the disease progresses.
Some changes will include the inability to tolerate loud noises, stressful situations, and crowds. Therefore it might become necessary to end large family gatherings. Think about creating smaller gatherings, over a period of days. This will ensure the least amount of stress.
Gift giving may need to be modified. Consider more practical items, like comfortable pull on clothing, soothing music, even the online mind games designed to stimulate the brain.
It is critically important for the family of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to maintain holiday traditions. This will allow the Christmas spirit to shine brightly so that everyone feels accepted, valued and loved.
For further information about Alzheimer’s disease, including tips for getting through, the following resources might be helpful:
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!