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Re-Framing Holiday Memories for those living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias

As we race toward the biggest retail season of the year, winter holidays1, it is important as caregivers to apply realism to our seasonal plan.  We all have the classic Norman Rockwell masterpieces planted in our psyche. Add to that the presence of constant marketing energy--our seasonal expectations may be unrealistic. 

Yes, it is important to maintain celebration and joyful times while living with a dementia diagnosis. But it might be necessary to look for the essence of past celebrations instead of the specifics.  Questions to ask yourself:

  • How will the maintenance of the tradition affect my life as a caregiver?
  • How will the maintenance of the tradition affect my loved one?
  • How can we achieve similar goals with less stress for both of us?

Re-frame your expectations for essence rather than detail.  Outline what your loved one most enjoyed in the past.  These are the essentials.  Then plan the season accordingly.  Caregiving research shows that cognitive reframing is an excellent strategy for adapting to life with a dementia diagnosis.2

Was it sitting by the fireplace that he looked forward to as the days shortened?  Or was it waking to a warm cup of cocoa?  Walking in the park when the days got chilly or enjoying homemade stew? 

Once the essentials are outlined, consider how to simplify them.  Maybe your loved one is no longer able to enjoy the entire family coming to dinner.  Instead, have them over in smaller groups over a longer period of time.  Remember, Norman Rockwell was capturing a snapshot in Americana, not setting the expectation for the perfect celebration. 

As the days get shorter, and the frost starts appearing on the pumpkins in some climates, consider re-framing your expectations.  Resilience in caregiving is defined as flexibility and adaptation in the face of adversity.3  Living with dementia has an inherent amount of adversity but resilience can take us from simply surviving the season to thriving in the season.               

 

Footnotes

1http://www.meetcrg.com/is-halloween-really-the-second-largest-us-holiday/     

2Dias, R., Santos, R.L., Sousa, M.F., Nogueira, M. M., Torres, B., et al. (2015).  Resilience of caregivers of people with dementia: A systematic review of biological and psychosocial determinants, Trends in Psychaitry and Psychotherapy, 37(1): 12-19.          

3Vernooij-Dassen, M., Draskovic, I., McCleery ,J., & Downs, M. (2011).  Cognitive reframing for carers of people with dementia, Cochrane Database System Review, 9(11): CDOO5318.

 

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