For many people, the holidays are a joyful time to celebrate with friends and loved ones.
But no matter how much you love the holiday season it can be stressful – even under the best of circumstances. There is the pressure to buy perfect, thoughtful gifts. Planning a holiday meal. Remembering to mail out the cards on time. Keeping the house clean enough for guests.
Add in a family member with dementia, and the stress factor can multiply by a million – for both you and them.
The key, then, to successfully celebrating the holidays with a dementia patient starts with careful planning and ends with thoughtfulness and understanding.
This is what you can do to ensure a pleasant time for all:
Fact: If you have a loved one who suffers from dementia, the holidays are not going to be the same anymore. Period.
Dementia can make it difficult to handle many seemingly easy tasks. For instance, even though grandma used to make an entire dinner from scratch every year, she may now have trouble just microwaving a bag of popcorn. Grandpa may have loved romping around with the grandkids in the past, but now the noise and activity leave him agitated.
It’s important for everyone involved in the celebration to have realistic expectations about what your older loved one can and cannot do. That might mean adjustments to the size of the gathering, the times you meet, and even the food served.
Keep Things Small
Large crowds, loud noises, and increased activity are all things that can create anxiety for a person with dementia.
If you are hosting a gathering that will include a person with dementia: This will not only help limit stress for your loved one, but will allow them the opportunity to spend more quality one-on-one time with everyone there.
Remember: Be aware of what is going on. If your loved one with Alzheimer’s seems to be getting tired or upset, suggest that they lay down for a bit or find another way to remove them from the hubbub.
Prepare Loved Ones
Your guests will certainly arrive at your celebration with the best of intentions: Obviously, no one is looking to upset old Uncle Harry.
Still, it’s important to let guests know exactly what to expect before they arrive. Many times, especially if the dementia patient doesn’t display many obvious outward symptoms, others don’t realize how serious the condition is, or that they may need to adjust their own behavior.
Here are a few tips that might be helpful to share:
- Remember to speak slowly and in a calm voice
- Don’t interrupt or correct, and give the person suffering from dementia time to finish their thoughts
- Don’t discuss the dementia patient in front of them — even if they don’t understand what is being said, they’ll likely know that you’re talking about them
- If the person has been suffering from dementia for an extended time, there may be serious changes in cognitive ability since the last time your friends or loved ones have seen them – make sure visitors understand those changes in advance
- Make sure that guests understand that their loved one’s behavior may be erratic
Suggest Appropriate Gifts
People often like to exchange gifts with their friends and loved ones during the holidays. Those who suffer from dementia may still enjoy the tradition, but with some modifications:
- Common holiday gifts, such as alcoholic beverages or candy, may no longer be appropriate. Make sure guests are prepared by providing them with a list of gift suggestions that are both enjoyable and safe – A fluffy bathrobe and slippers, favorite music and movies, simple crafts or activities, or motion-activated nightlights.
- Advise people NOT to give gifts which could be dangerous or cause frustration, such as complicated board games, challenging books, unsafe food items, or pets.
- Involve your older loved one in gift-giving by asking them to offer gift suggestions for young family members, letting them help wrap, or including them in baking and packaging cookies or other treats.
- Don’t forget the caregivers! Although it’s rewarding, caregiving is also a tiring and stressful task. If your older loved one lives with a family member or friend who takes care of them, make sure that person also feels the love this holiday season! One of the kindest things you can do is to take over caregiving for an afternoon so your friend or loved one can take some time for themselves.
Check-In With Your Loved One
You may love the holidays, but that doesn’t mean your older loved one feels the same way. Even if they loved celebrating in the past, a person living with dementia may not feel comfortable socializing anymore, or they feel too tired to take part.
They key is to check-in in advance and ask them about their preferences. Plan the holidays together, focusing on the things that bring them happiness, and pushing aside other traditions.
Remember: It’s not any particular activity that makes the holidays special. It’s spending time with those you love. If your loved one with dementia doesn’t want a traditional holiday celebration, that’s ok. It can still be magical, even if it’s just the two of you.