How to Prepare Family Before Holiday Visits with a Senior

family holidaysIf you are a caregiver of a family member who lives nearby, you’re likely used to his or her appearance and behavior, and can observe changes on a regular basis as your loved one gradually declines. On the other hand, family members who live out of town may be shocked or dismayed at recent changes in the individual when they come to town for holiday gatherings.

A lot can happen in one year when it comes to health changes in seniors. Out-of-town family members who are scared or surprised about these changes can begin to act irrationally, perhaps getting angry, treating the older adult disrespectfully, or even insisting on unwise changes to his or her care.

The best way to approach the situation is to give your family an idea of what to expect before they show up in town. This can help minimize negative reactions such as criticism, rude comments, or disrespectful attitudes. One way to do this is by sending out an email ahead of time that explains the senior’s current health condition and daily activities, gives a heads up about their common behaviors in various situations, and suggests ways to successfully interact together. This can help both the older adult and other family members enjoy the family gathering a little more.

In the email, you may want to share information such as the following: recent photos, any incontinence issues (such as wearing disposable briefs), unpredictable behavior or memory patterns caused by dementia, significant weight gain or loss, inability to do certain daily activities (eating, going to the bathroom, etc.), or being in a wheelchair/using a walker.

Below is a sample letter featured on DailyCaring.com, written from the perspective of a family member caring for someone dealing with common aging and dementia issues. You may need to customize the message to fit your senior’s particular health situation, but this is a good starting point:

“I’m writing to let you know how things are going with Mom. We’re both looking forward to your visit and thought it might be helpful if I explained our current situation before you arrive.

You might notice that Mom has changed since you last saw her. Her doctors say she’s getting the correct care, and these changes are common in people with advancing dementia.

Some of the things you might notice are that she’s lost weight and looks more frail. She uses a walker and is sensitive to larger crowds and too much noise. She also has some problems thinking clearly, so her behavior is a little unpredictable and may seem odd to you.
Please understand and don’t feel offended if she doesn’t remember who you are or confuses you with someone else. She appreciates your being with us and so do I. The warm feelings she’ll have after spending time with you is what she’ll remember.

Please treat Mom as you would any person. She’s still “herself” inside even if she can’t always express it. She enjoys warm smiles and hugs and will love gentle touches on her shoulder or hands.

This all might seem strange to you, but Alzheimer’s is a strange disease that causes unpredictable changes. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a tough job and I’m doing the very best I can. With your help and support, we can create a holiday memory that we’ll all treasure.

I’ve attached a recent picture so you’ll know how she looks now.”

You can also attach a few helpful resources at the end of your email providing more information about your loved one’s health condition so family members can read up on it prior to their visit. When enough information is provided in advance, individuals will be better prepared to handle the changes they see in their older adult over the holidays – and that will make your life as a caregiver much easier, too!