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Dealing with Alzheimer's, dementia can be tough at holidays

by The Western News
| December 13, 2011 2:20 PM

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in eight people older than 65 suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, with that statistic rising to almost half of individuals older than 85 (that’s 5.4 million Americans overall).

With those disturbing odds, it’s likely that you’ll be coming into contact with someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or another dementia this holiday season.

Whether your loved one is a parent, grandparent, other relative, or family friend, you’re probably wondering what to expect during your time together.

According to Nataly Rubinstein, the presence of Alzheimer’s or dementia will change the way the holidays “have always been,” but you can take concrete steps that create the best odds for an enjoyable experience.

“When someone you know and love is diagnosed with one of these diseases, the new normal can be difficult to understand, accept, and deal with, especially around the holidays,” said Rubinstein, author of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide (Two Harbors Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-9361981-3-9, $17.95).

“The key to best managing your holiday experience is to educate yourself as to what you should expect and to regulate your expectations accordingly.”

 Rubinstein speaks from experience. As a licensed clinical social worker and geriatric care manager, she has more than 26 years of professional and personal experience. (Visit for more.)

As an Alzheimer’s coach — a mix between a psychotherapist and a consultant — she regularly works with families to form the strategic plans and coping skills needed to improve their quality of life while caring for a family member with dementia.

Here are some things Rubinstein suggests keeping in mind if you’ll be visiting someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia in the coming weeks:

• Understand why you feel the way you do. There’s nothing joyous or merry about the fact that someone you love has a degenerative and ultimately fatal disease.

• Manage your expectations. We live in a society that’s inundated by Hallmark holiday images: families gathered happily around the menorah or Christmas tree, laughing around the dinner table, or singing favorite holiday songs. Even if you’ve somehow managed to achieve this type of complete holiday bliss in the past (which is unlikely), you need to know that this year will not be the same.

• Acknowledge the elephant in the room. For all families with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

• Don’t expect family dynamics to change. Consider this scenario: Grandpa has been diagnosed with dementia, and he wasn’t in the best of health to begin with. Realistically, this might be his last holiday, and everyone knows it.