The stress of the holidays can take a toll on families, so make sure to plan ahead. Invite family and friends to meet as a group before the event. Discuss location, transportation plans, the menu, and activities to do during the event. Decide which traditions you might need to adapt and which you would like to keep the same. Handling the holidays with a family member who has dementia is easier if everyone provides some level of support so that special considerations are not planned and facilitated all by one person. If you are the primary family caregiver of someone with dementia, make sure you communicate with others and ask them for help when you need it.
Keep it Familiar
For many people, a change in schedule and environment (even a visit home or to a loved one’s home) can cause anxiety and confusion. If you are planning to take your loved one home from a residential community or from their home, try to show up early and spend some time with them first before inviting them to come with you. This will provide a smoother transition, and it allows them to process the information at their own speed. Carefully consider whether bringing your loved one to an unfamiliar or forgotten environment will be worth the risks. In some cases, it may be wise to hold a small family celebration in their residential community or in their home verses bringing them somewhere new or forgotten. Attempt to plan your visit and your celebration around their schedule as much as possible. Sticking to their routine will greatly improve their chances of success.
Keep it Small and Simple
Plan for small groups of friends or family members to arrive to the celebration at staggered times. Even if your loved one is not sure who they are, two or three new faces are likely to be welcome while a large group of people might be overwhelming. Remember to introduce each person. Encourage each person to also introduce themselves and give a compliment: “Happy Thanksgiving, Aunt Mary! I’m your nephew, John. I’m happy to see you today!”
Consider Time and Place
People with dementia often get tired easily, especially as their condition declines. Knowing that confusion is more common in the evening, try to schedule your event or visit in the morning or midday, which are the times of day least associated
with confusion. If you decide to hold an evening event, ensure that the area is well lit, and avoid anything that may trigger a behavior. The trigger may be a visit to his or her old bedroom if they have not been home in a while or bringing up the death of a sibling or friend. Be sensitive of feelings, and keep interactions positive.
Respect Traditions and Memories
Focus on events that are meaningful to your loved one. Things such as singing a favorite holiday song or looking at old photo albums can be very comforting for someone with dementia. Your loved one might still be able to participate by helping to mash potatoes or mix cake batter. Keep traditions alive to reinforce positive memories. If he or she always made cinnamon rolls, make cinnamon rolls together. Things such as opening holiday cards or wrapping gifts can be a great way to connect during the holidays. Rather than focusing on the result of the activity, such as creating perfectly wrapped presents, try to focus on the process instead. A feeling of connection with you is what will truly engage and comfort your loved one.
Try Not to Over-Decorate
Flashing lights and bulky decorative displays can cause disorientation and confusion. Avoid hazards such as lit candles as well as decorations that might be mistaken for edible treats, such as wax or plastic fruit, or decorative glass marbles.
Slow Down and Enjoy
Although most of us enjoy the cheerfulness of holiday music, gatherings, and meal preparation, it all adds up to noise, which can cause overstimulation. For a person with dementia, environment can be everything. Try to create an environment that is as calming as possible. Make sure they have plenty of places to relax and sit down. Schedule the day in a way that gives your loved one time to rest as well as engage with others.
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