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The CaraVita Blog

Dealing with Difficult Behavior During the Holiday Season

Posted by CaraVita Staff on December 1 2017


Often times the holiday season can bring to light a loved one’s variety of difficult behaviors. While the holidays are a joyous time that can be meaningful and enriching for all, it can also cause anxiety or confusion for someone living with Alzheimer’s. Interruption in routine, loud noises, and stimulation during family visits can be difficult on both loved ones with memory impairments and the family caregiver.

If you are not consistently around someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you may think of someone with dementia as being just confused, quiet, or complacent, unfortunately that is not always the case. These diseases can bring on more challenging behaviors like verbal outbursts, embarrassing actions, or even physically combative behaviors. Dealing with these can be one of the most challenging parts of being a family caregiver, so let’s explore some ways to understand and work around common challenging behaviors associated with dementia and how to make the holidays enjoyable for all.

Identify What’s Causing the Behavior

One of the first steps is to understand what is causing the behavior. Are they upset, confused, stressed, or frustrated? Is the behavior preventable in the future by changing the cause of the behavior? For example, if your loved one is acting out because they are stressed by being around too many people at a restaurant, are you able to go to a quieter restaurant or eat at a different time when it will be less busy?

It’s also possible that your loved one may experience overstimulation during a holiday party. If this happens, consider creating a designated safe space, free of noise, with calming light, and without interruption for them to retire too. Many people with Alzheimer’s also rely on routine – including their normal way they navigate the house. To avoid any frustration, ensure that the Christmas tree does not block their normal path and that they cannot trip over presents or other décor.

Examine the Behavior Objectively

Unfortunately, these behaviors are not always correctable or preventable so it is important to know when to try corrective action. We recommend that you examine the behavior objectively and determine if it is harmful for themselves and others around them or if the behavior is just embarrassing and uncomfortable. If, for example, your mom likes to wear her hair in pigtails, let her. However, with the cold weather during the holidays, make sure your mom is properly dressed. If possible, help her dress in layers so she is protected from the cold, but that can be removed when inside so she does not become overheated.

Seek to Understand What They Are Feeling

Try to understand what your loved one might be feeling during this experience. Focus on the ‘why’ of the behavior instead of ‘what’ they are doing. Keep this in mind while interacting with your loved one. If your dad disrobes in inappropriate circumstances, he may be experiencing the feeling that his clothes are too tight – so do not scold him for feeling uncomfortable. If he is experiencing discomfort try to prepare a quiet distraction like looking at an old family album or helping to decorate Christmas cookies.

Treat Your Loved One with Kindness

Finally, when dealing with problem behaviors, be sure to interact with your loved one with kindness. A little kindness goes a long way. While this may seem like a simple suggestion, in the heat of the moment, especially if you are feeling embarrassed, it may be easier said than done. Try to understand where these feelings of frustration are coming from and validate what they are feeling. Act with kindness and patience when correcting or speaking with your loved one.

At CaraVita Home Care we understand just how stressful being a family caregiver to someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be, especially during the holidays. We want to assist and support you during your care journey. If you would like to receive training, sign up for one of our Family and Community Training classes. These complimentary classes will help you understand Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as provide you tips for being a successful caregiver.

Topics: Alzheimer's & Dementia, Holidays