The Holidays & Dementia

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The holidays are a wonderful time of year to celebrate your faith, enjoy special times with family, attend gatherings with friends, and relax during extended days off. But for the person with dementia and their primary caregiver, it can be difficult to have this idyllic kind of holiday. Dementia makes it hard to travel to see loved ones. And as families become more mobile and live all over the country, getting together with family is harder to plan. Dementia is also a challenging disease that impacts mood and personality. The person with dementia is no longer that same wonderful, loving, smart, caring, funny person they were 20 years ago, and these changes complicate holiday celebrations.

new, wonderful memories can still be created.

The primary caregiver is the person most impacted emotionally as holiday rituals begin to change. The dementia patient often doesn’t even know it is a holiday, but the caregiver still has expectations based on a lifetime of memories. However, new, wonderful memories can still be created. This is the time to take a deep breath and realize with just a little planning, you can still have a memorable holiday. It may not be the same holiday you had the last 5 years, but it can be just as joyful.

Jim, Vicki & Nephew Jared (Jared is Pastor of Wave Norfolk Church)

To make this wonderful holiday happen, you may have to be a little more proactive in your planning. I found myself in this situation a month ago. Thanksgiving and Christmas were approaching and Jim and I had no plans, no one to spend any time with but ourselves. While that would have been fine, my real desire was to spend part of either Thanksgiving or Christmas with some part of family. About the same time I started thinking about this, one of Jim’s caregivers told me she had no one to spend Thanksgiving with. I asked her if she would like to spend it with us, and she said yes. So in the space of a minute our Thanksgiving group went from two people to three – an increase of 50 percent. Things were starting to look up!

Now is where the proactive part came in. I knew if we were going to be with any part of our family, I was going to have to reach out and talk to someone. I couldn’t sit around and wait for the invitations to roll in because that probably wasn’t going to happen. So I called my nephew in Virginia Beach and told him I really wanted to spend part of one holiday with family. He immediately told me I needed to have Thanksgiving dinner with him, his family, his in laws and extended family. Wow! That sounded great.

I immediately accepted this wonderful invitation and we went to Virginia Beach – Jim, Kim the caregiver, and me. I found myself at Thanksgiving eating at a table with about 15 other people – half of whom I had never met. But I can honestly tell you I had a fabulous time. We also got invited to another dinner the Saturday after Thanksgiving, had another Virginia friend come over to visit, and went to church with our Virginia Beach family on Sunday. What a special weekend it was!

My takeaways from this experience is that if I want Jim and I to have the best holiday we can, I need to:

be open to having a new kind of experience,

plan something I can manage without a lot of major effort,

plan something Jim would be comfortable with,

maintain a close-to-normal routine for Jim during these days away, and

build in time to relax

The key to having a special time at Thanksgiving was to be honest with myself about the kind of holiday I wanted to have. Then I had to talk to family and friends who could help me make that happen. With this little bit of effort, we were able to create a holiday that was much preferable to spending our Thanksgiving weekend alone.

14 Responses

  1. Kenneth Samuelson Sr

    Yes family time is important even if my dear wife seems happy but overwhelmed a little. She liked all the attention. Like you, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family.

    • Vicki Hafele

      I’m glad to hear you had a good Thanksgiving Ken. Jim too was a bit overwhelmed, but he managed to adapt and enjoyed seeing people who were so happy to see him. Thanks for your email.

  2. Betty burroughs

    I know what it is like to b a caregiver. My husband had ALS a horrific disease. You did such a great job with the holidays. I was fortunate to have children in my hometown. Merry Christmas Vickie and Jim. You are truly an amazing person

    Love. Betty Anne

    • Vicki Hafele

      It is so good to hear from you Betty. I’m so sorry about your husband’s disease. ALS is a very difficult fight. You are amazing too!

  3. Michael C Eubanks

    Vickie, you are an heroic person. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate and appauld your effort to understand and deal with the challenges you and Jim face. May God continue to bless you both.

  4. Linda Helikson

    Vicki, this post touched my heart so much. You have always been so positive in the most difficult of situations. Your wonderful husband is so so lucky to have you in his life. As I know you feel the same for him..the love you two have is so apparent. Thanks for sharing your story…I love these posts. ❤️

    • Vicki Hafele

      Thanks Linda for your kind email. You are very perceptive. I do love Jim to death! I thank the Lord for allowing our love to flourish through this disease and not make either one of us bitter. Jim continues to remain positive.

  5. Nancy Fisher

    Wow! What a great post and it touched my heart. This can be applied to so many situations. Holidays can be so difficult but you showed cleared examples of how to look at them with a new vision. You are such a blessing and I appreciate you more than you can know. May God continue to lift you up and give you hope!

  6. Mona Williams

    It is difficult to recognize the caregiver must continue to enjoy their own life while making this hard journey. By finding enjoyment for ourselves we can find strength to stare down these hateful diseases and move forward to provide the best days we can for our loved ones. They can “sense” our joy and this provides them comfort. Be blessed this Christmas!!

  7. I think your posts contain a lot of valuable wisdom. My best wishes to you and Jim.

  8. Elaine Ginsberg

    You are such an inspiration Vicki. I just love your posts! How brave and energetic you are in making things happen for you and Jim! God Bless you!

    • Vicki Hafele

      It is good to hear from you Elaine. I hope things go well in Michigan. We have had 3 great medical professionals to help us find some treatment options. They don’t always agree with each other, so you have to be willing to make up your own mind about what sounds best knowing your situation.

  9. John Springsteed

    Vickie, So nice to see you and learn about a “Blog”. You just seem to be an amazing person. While I don’t know you that well what I have seen is a nice lady with much energy. So happy you all adapted so well to a different setting this year.


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