Managing expectations for Alzheimer's during the holiday

HOUSTON – Spending time with a relative who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is something many families will have to face this holiday.

Watching the heartbreak of them not knowing a name, having trouble remembering a favorite recipe or lashing out at a loved one. How do you act around that?

“You got to try to step into their world and understand where they're coming from. It's just a lot of confusion,” John Sachs said.

Sachs said his wife, Janice, is in stage six of the disease.

Sachs said his wife used to light up the world with her Christmas spirit, but in the advanced stages of her disease, she cannot handle crowds, noise or stress.

“We have seven grandchildren, six are under 14 years old or younger, and they're rambunctious,” Sachs said. “In that type of environment, she really gets frightened.”

Houston Methodist clinical social worker, Rebecca Axline said to tell your relatives how they can help before they arrive.

“Just giving them general information like, ‘Don't be surprised if she's not doing this any longer or if this is difficult,’” Axline said. “Clueing them in so they're not overwhelmed when they come in and see how much change has taken place.”

She said it can help avoid condescending or awkward encounters.

“Be respectful, but don’t say ‘Remember me? Don't you know who I am?’” she said. “Just say to them, ‘My name is Rebecca, we saw each other at Christmas, it's so good to see you again.’”

Most importantly, she says to enjoy!

Sachs said one thing the disease has not stolen is Janice’s memory of music. Listening to her favorite songs or hymns lets them feel the magic of the season.

“We put on some old, old vinyl from 40-45 years ago and she knew the words to every song. It was really quite incredible,” Sachs said. “It just blew us away because she would sit there and sing along to the songs, and I mean it was, it was really quite emotional to all of us.”

Some other tips from Axline:

·         Manage expectations and keep things simple.

·         Make sure that the patient and caregivers are still taking medications and getting exercise to stay healthy during the holidays.

·         Use music, gift wrapping and smells of the holidays (like baking) to keep loved ones involved in tasks. Giving them small tasks to be a part of the activity minimizes the feeling of grief for the person with the disease.