Embracing the Holidays When Joy Is Anticipated, but Dementia Is Not
Christmas is designed around anticipation — and not just from a marketing standpoint. Sure, the holiday has become significantly commercialized. Still, many years ago, on a hillside near Bethlehem, following an appearance of angels, shepherds were led to Bethlehem in anticipation of a babe in a manger. With great expectation, they followed the star, and there, in a stinky, old barn, they found the Christ child, for there was no room for him at the inn.
Perhaps you’ve read the story from Luke 2 in the Bible, or maybe you remember it from Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown Christmas special. Linus sells the anticipatory aspect of the story.
What about you? Are you excited to welcome the holidays?
A loss of anticipation
Unfortunately, for some, all isn’t “merry and bright.” If you or a loved one is facing dementia, or its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease, the holidays’ sights, sounds, and smells may evoke dread rather than happiness.
Merriment eludes so many of us during the holiday seas0n. The world turns red, green, and tinsel, but for those of us affected by dementia, our heads may spin with a different type of wonderment.
If the diagnosis is recent, you may wonder how to break the bad news to loved ones gathered around a holiday table.
Or, maybe it’s not your diagnosis to break to the family. Instead, you’ve come home for the holidays and suddenly noticed a change. Life isn’t running as smoothly for Mom or Dad, newspapers, books, and other paraphernalia are piling high, and your loved one isn’t as sharp as they were this time last year. It takes them a while to prepare dinner, even with help, and they’re less interested in activities they once found exhilarating. The twinkle behind their eyes has grown dim in this season of light. Your excited anticipation morphs into nervous anticipation.
Confronting fears we weren’t anticipating
Facing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease head-on during the holidays often isn’t something you anticipate at all.
Discussing cognitive issues is never easy, but it’s important to gently address them. Don’t wait until after the holidays. Hiding your head in the sand isn’t helpful to anyone.
If you’ve noticed your loved one exhibiting new and odd behavior, speak with a trusted friend or family member to see if they’ve also noticed these changes. Family members who love and care for them should devise a plan for bringing concerns to the proverbial table.
Your local Alzheimer’s Association is an excellent resource that can provide support and information. Speak with someone in your local chapter, or visit the organization’s website to educate yourself about the disease.
If you’ve been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s understandable to be reluctant to share the news. You may fear that isolation will ensue, or that family and friends will view you negatively.
Confide in a trusted friend or family member who can stand by your side and help you share the news on your own terms. It’s OK to choose a time during the holidays. With your family gathered, you can sit them down to inform them all at the same time. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to avoid bringing your issues to their attention. Dementia isn’t a good secret to keep, and your family can help you to live your best life with the disease.
Embracing the holidays with dementia
Once you’ve addressed cognitive issues, you can move ahead to embracing the joyous anticipation of the holidays.
I have watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” more years than I can count. Perhaps there’s a reason why blanket-carrying Linus is my favorite character. Interestingly, Schulz chooses the character with security issues to answer the question Charlie Brown poses: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Linus, who is never without his security blanket, responds, telling the story of Jesus’ birth. Recently, someone pointed out to me that during this scene, he releases his grip and drops the blanket when he recites the angels’ words, “Fear not.” He finishes the passage before walking over to Charlie Brown to say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Dementia isn’t a happy diagnosis, and we certainly don’t anticipate it like we do the holidays. But Christmas is the perfect time to seek hope, joy, love, and peace amid the challenges the disease brings.
Attention to the pillars of Advent lessened dementia’s blow on my family and helped us soldier on as the seasons came and went. On days more dull than bright, we could often find ourselves merry. I wish you the same.
Merry Christmas, and happy holidays!
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.