The holidays are usually a cheerful time of the year when friends and family come together to catch up and look back at memorable occasions. Spending the holidays with someone who has dementia can be stressful, as they may not remember certain people, things or events and may portray aggressive or irrational behavior and mood changes. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, up to 5.1 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer's disease, a form of dementia. If your loved one has dementia, use these tips to make the holidays more pleasant.
1. Prepare Distant Friends and Family
If you have distant friends or family members that are not familiar with dementia, take the time to phone or call to let guests know what to expect before they arrive. It's important for guests to understand that someone with dementia may have difficulty following conversations and may repeat him- or herself.
2. Share Holiday Responsibilities with Others
You may feel like it's your responsibility to take care of the invites, dinner preparations, décor setup, and caregiving tasks, but doing everything yourself can take a toll on your health and wellbeing. Take some stress off yourself by asking guests to bring a dish to share and asking close friends and family members to help decorate.
3. Avoid Overstimulation
Too many activities, too long travel periods, and numerous people in a small space can easily overstimulate someone with dementia. Schedule the holiday meal earlier in the day to avoid over-tiring and over-stimulating the person with dementia. If possible, assign someone who is familiar with the individual with dementia to keep that person as de-stressed as possible.
4. Make Some Preparations Together
It can be enjoyable for everyone involved to allow the person with dementia to pitch in with the holiday preparations. If the person loves to bake, ask him or her to measure sugar, stir batter, or roll out the dough. If the person prefers more low-key activities, consider making handcrafted holiday cards together or ornaments to decorate the home.
5. Host a Slow-Paced, Quiet Gathering
Blinking lights can be disorientation and loud music and screaming children can cause individuals with dementia to act out. To avoid any problems during the festivities, keep décor to a minimum and avoid lighted candles and other safety hazards. Try to maintain a calm, quiet environment and follow the individual's normal routines as much as possible.
6. Give Comfort by Building on Past Traditions
Although a person with dementia may not remember all of their past traditions, hearing a familiar song or story may spark their memory. During the holidays, focus on activities that may be meaningful to the person with dementia, such as singing a favorite Christmas carol or looking through a photo album of past holidays.
7. Encourage Safe, Useful Gift Giving
When choosing a gift to give, and when speaking to friends and family members about proper gift giving, opt for gifts that will be safe and useful to the person with dementia. Good gift options include a fruit basket, frozen meals, picture books featuring historical places or nature, memory boxes of old photos and mementos, and pamper supplies.
8. Celebrate in a Familiar Setting
It's easier for someone with dementia to remain calm and personable if they are in a familiar place, preferably their own home, nursing home, or other care facility. If you don't want to cause them stress by removing them from their home, bring the festivities to them. Participate in holiday activities at the individual's facility and bring along a gift and some food to share.
Celebrating the holidays with someone who has dementia can be bittersweet. To make the most of these special occasions together, it's important to know what to expect, to be realistic with your expectations, and to be patient and forgiving. With these tips in mind, you and your loved one can enjoy many wonderful holidays together.
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