The holidays can bring opportunities for shared memories, laughter and close times, often with those we care about the most.

For a rapidly growing number of families with loved ones experiencing Alzheimer’s disease, the holidays can also be a time of stress, disappointment and sadness. People with Alzheimer’s may experience feelings of loss during the holidays because of changes they are experiencing. Their caregivers may feel overwhelmed trying to maintain traditions while providing care.

The increase in Alzheimer’s cases is due mostly to the huge baby boomer generation reaching their senior years and living longer. Increasing evidence also points to air pollution as a cause of cognitive decline, and therefore also the growing frequency of Alzheimer’s disease.

Knowing that more families are dealing with Alzheimer’s offers no consolation to those with loved ones who have the disease, but it increases hopes for an increased emphasis on finding a cure.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips to families on ways to help caregivers during the holiday season:

• Caregivers may feel overwhelmed by maintaining traditions. Experiment with new traditions that might be less stressful or a better fit. For example, turn the traditional holiday dinner into a lunch.

• The stress of caregiving responsibilities layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. If a caregiver has traditionally hosted family celebrations, offer to host it instead.

• Make a standing appointment to give caregivers a break. Spend time with the person living with Alzheimer’s to give the caregiver a chance to run holiday errands or engage in an activity to recharge.

• Check in regularly: It’s easy for people to lose touch in the holidays. Calling to check in, sending a note or stopping by for a visit can make a big difference in a caregiver’s day and help them feel supported.

• Caregivers are often overwhelmed by the demands of caregiving and it can be hard for them to find time to complete simple tasks that others may take for granted. Offer to tackle a caregiver’s holiday to-do list – cooking, cleaning, gift shopping or wrapping.

• Caregivers often neglect their own well-being. Pick gifts that help them take care of themselves and provide some relief. For example, consider a household chore service or meal delivery service as a gift.

Caregiving needs will intensify and become more demanding as Alzheimer’s progresses. While it’s important to check in and support caregivers throughout the year, offering additional help during the busy holiday period can make a huge difference.

There are programs in North Carolina with services for people providing care for someone at home, including a state-funded dementia-specific support program called Project CARE (Caregiver Alternatives to Running on Empty).

Project CARE uses a family consultant to provide comprehensive support to those caring for someone at home with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, but who are not currently receiving similar services through programs such as the VA, Medicaid, etc. For more information about Project CARE, contact family consultant Karen Phoenix at 828-485-4267 or at karen.phoenix@wpcog.org. State Project CARE Director Dawn Oakey Gartman can be reached at 919-855-3462.

High Country Family Caregiver Support Program (FCSP) provides support, resources, respite vouchers and supplemental services to family caregivers in Wilkes and other High Country counties. FSCP works to meet caregivers’ needs to help provide their challenging service. For more about the program, contact Amber Chapman at 828-265-5434 ext. 113 or achapman@hccog.org.

The North Carolina Lifespan Respite Program reimburses eligible family caregivers of any age up to $500 in respite care services, annually. Funding is limited and applications are accepted when funds are available. Applicants must be referred by a local professional organization.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s Association resources, visit www.alz.org or call the free 24/7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

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