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Handling Alzheimer's or dementia around the holidays


How you handle your busy late-December plans can drastically change if someone you love is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. WBFO’s Nick Lippa talked with Western New York Alzheimer’s Association Care Consultation Director Katie Keith-Badeau to discuss some helpful tips on how to make the holiday season jolly for all.

Alzheimer’s lasts, on average, for about 5 to 7 years. In the early stages you can hold a conversation with some short-term memory loss and some slight changes in personality.

For families dealing with the early to middle stages of the disease, Keith-Badeau said gatherings will be more enjoyable if plans are spread out in smaller doses.

“Instead of a five-hour family dinner, we are going to keep it to an hour. And instead of all twenty of you coming at once, we would love it if you spread out your visits in the span of a week,” she said. “One visitor for an hour in the morning. One visitor for an hour in the evening. Because it takes a lot of mental energy to engage and socialize and, while they love it, it will drain them fast.”

If you’re taking an older relative to someone else’s house, Keith-Badeau said it is important to plan ahead and make sure there is a quiet space to get away from the noise, if need be. 

“Dad can go have some downtime if he gets overstimulated by the kids singing, the noisy toys going, the carols, and the pots and pans. It’s a lot,” she said. “So to kind of have an exit strategy ready for if and when that time comes (is good).”

And with planning ahead comes preparing other family members.

“It helps to just share gently, ‘Hey you might notice X, Y, and Z. You might notice Dad is struggling to keep up with back and forth communication.’ He might goof up the names,” Kieth-Badeau said.

Alzheimer’s and dementia could be something relatives suspect around the holiday. Mistaking names and times, repeating stories, and forgetting appointments are all things relating to short-term memory loss.

“Forgetting the steps in hobbies. Routine things you have done for a long time,” Kieth-Badeau said. “All of a sudden goofing up the steps or missing a step. Falling through on those. Traditional things they’ve done for a long time.”

Personality and mood regulation changes are also warning signs.

Keith-Badeau said it’s important to be supportive if you know they are having trouble.

“When you go up to see your grandma who you haven’t seen in a year and you are worried she might not get your name straight, don’t test her. You want her to be successful and to enjoy it. Say, ‘Grandma, it’s me Katie.  I’m so excited to see you.’ Those kind of things,” she said.

Gift giving is a big part of this time of year. Keith-Badeau said it’s important to give with their needs in mind.

“Another fruitcake maybe. Or could you pay for grocery delivery. Could you pay for snow removal? Could you set up these more practical things that are really going to help them.”

If you are having trouble explaining the situation to kids or need advice yourself, you can call the Alzheimer’s Association help line at 1-800-272-3900.

For more information on how to handle Alzheimer’s and dementia you can visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at ALZ.Org.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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