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Making the Holidays Brighter for Alzheimer’s Families

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

For families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, the busy holiday season can sometimes be overwhelming, both for the caregiver and for the person with memory loss. Family gatherings and other social get-togethers can contribute to an already stressful situation for those dealing with the disease at home.

Lisa Gwyther, director of the Alzheimer's Family Support program at Duke University Medical Center, says one of the most important things that can be done for caregivers this time of year is simply acknowledge the job they're doing.

"These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things," Gwyther says. "Expressing our appreciation for all their effort is a very positive thing to do."

As for other expressions of appreciation, Gwyther says small gifts can make a big difference for Alzheimer's caregivers. Certificates for free time and running errands for them are among the things that can help make their lives easier.

"Some families make wish lists or job jars, with gift ideas that they'd really welcome," says Gwyther. "When someone asks about a gift, you can just refer them to the jar. One loved one's caregiver wish said, 'Would someone please remind me to change the oil in my car? My husband always did that and he isn't able to do it any longer.' Sometimes these little things can be such a huge help."

Gwyther says people should also make an effort to include persons with memory loss in the family's holiday activities as much as possible, without overwhelming them.

"A lot of individuals could be included in shopping or wrapping or selecting a gift from a catalog picture or a Web site, which is a whole lot easier than going to a busy shopping mall and dealing with crowds and confusion and long waits in line," she says.

Gwyther says a family member with Alzheimer's can still be part of the holiday celebration.

"I think what people forget is that people with memory loss still want to be connected," she explains. "They want to contribute, they want to feel like they are still fulfilling adult roles."

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Duke University Medical Center will host the 17th annual Joseph and Kathleen Bryan Alzheimer's Disease Research Center Conference on Feb. 13-14, 2003. The conference addresses advances and challenges in treatment and care for persons with Alzheimer's. For more information, call (919) 660-7510 in North Carolina or (800) 672-4213 from outside N.C.

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