At this time of year, generations of family and friends are preparing to gather to celebrate the holidays. For some, however, with loved ones who have recently have received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or another form of dementia, the holidays may seem bittersweet. They won’t be alone; the Alzheimer’s Association reports that someone develops AD every 67 seconds. Most of those with the disease receive unpaid care from family and friends – nearly 18 billion hours in 2014.
Families may plan to use some holiday time to make decisions around care and caregiving. These issues and decisions can sometimes be contentious, however, so there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Stay calm
Many families will not have planned for or expected such a diagnosis to happen to them. Although it is important to seek appropriate medical care and treatment for your loved one, a diagnosis of AD need not mean that everyone’s lives must change immediately. For a time, your loved one may still be able to live independently, manage his or her finances, and drive safely. Panicking and making decisions under extreme stress may lead to choices and outcomes that are not optimal for anyone.
2. Seek resources
There are many available resources about AD, such as the information and tools available from the Alzheimer’s Association. Learn more about the disease, and encourage other family members to do so as well. Knowing what may lie ahead may not make the road any easier, but it will help everyone begin to make plans for the future to keep your loved one safe, and to reduce stress for everyone.
Around the issue of driving, the guide At the Crossroads, from The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and based on research with the MIT AgeLab, supports families in transitioning their loved ones from drivers to passengers with tools to help determine when driving has become a problem, suggestions for easing the evolution, and ideas for how to help people get around when they can no longer drive.
3. Prioritize and share the load
You may not be able to solve all of the issues you can think of – schedules for care, managing finances, whether your loved one can drive safely or live independently, where he or she might live in the future, and so forth — during the holiday family time. It’s important to prioritize, though, and do a little research to determine what issues need to take precedence. Maybe different family members can focus on different issues. Remember that no one individual has to do it all.
4. Involve your loved one
To the extent possible, involve your loved one in conversations around care and planning. Whether they remember the discussions or decisions made weeks, months or years later is less important than affording them the dignity and respect of a place at the table.
5. Make time for family fun
Although it may be important to take advantage of the time when everyone is together to make decisions, it is crucial to make time for family. This is an opportunity to do things together as a family that your loved one can participate in and to enjoy the holidays.
Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD is the founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and teaches in the Sloan School of Management Advanced Management Program and the Department of Urban Studies & Planning. He regularly comments on aging well and technology on Twitter @josephcoughlin
Dr. Coughlin is collaborating with The Hartford to share his expertise. The Hartford does not endorse or have any association with the products and/or services referenced. All opinions are those of Dr. Coughlin and do not reflect the opinion of The Hartford.
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