Holidays and family celebrations can be very enjoyable for people living with dementia. In most cases, maintaining time-honored traditions helps a person with dementia feel a sense of belonging and enjoy positive memories. For people living well into the disease, this link with familiar past traditions may provide reassurance and increase their awareness. But as you mention, this time of year can also be stressful, busy, and full of expectations that might become overwhelming to someone with cognitive impairment.
Remember that the holiday atmosphere is different in several ways, and while traditions and family gatherings can certainly continue for your family, they may require some careful adaptations and alterations. Balancing time filled with activity with quiet time will be important so your loved one (and you!) don’t get overwhelmed or fatigued As much as possible, you should try to keep to your normal routine with your loved one.
Here are a few other helpful hints about organizing celebrations:
- As always, plan ahead but remember to be flexible. If your gut is telling you that they are not having a “good day”—don’t push it. Trust your instincts.
- Talk about and show pictures of the people who are coming before they arrive to reacquaint them with relatives and friends. Perhaps use photo albums or family videos. Remember not to quiz them about names and relationships—and advise others not to quiz, either. Make sure all who visit know about the Alzheimer’s and how best to communicate with her.
- Involve your loved one in activities such as hanging decorations, wrapping presents, sending holiday cards and baking, if possible. Being involved in meaningful activity goes a long way towards reducing stress.
- Play familiar holiday music but limit loud noises, music and conversations all happening at once—especially if you want your parent to be able to focus on a conversation.
- Serve traditional, familiar holiday food
- Consider name tags for family visits and functions –if everyone wears one, it will be natural and may help trigger name recall.
- If possible, host your gatherings during the late morning or early in the day when energy is best. This helps avoid evening confusion or excitability that may occur when energy is low.
- As you decorate, be aware of the excess stimulation that decoration can create. Avoid using wires and cords in plain sight and limit excessive decorations and blinking lights. Don’t rearrange furniture too much to accommodate decorations or tree. Make sure there is always a clear pathway for walking.
- Try using ribbon or yarn instead of sharp hooks to hang ornaments.
- If your loved one is very confused or has issues with remembering the meaning of certain objects (mistakes inedible objects for food, etc.) you may want to take into account these further safety suggestions:
For more information on dementia care, contact Spring Arbor.
- Use plastic or silk mistletoe; real mistletoe is toxic if eaten.
- Be cautious about using ornaments and decorations that look like food (artificial popcorn strands, ornaments that look like candy, cookies and gingerbread) as they can be mistakenly consumed.
- While poinsettia plants are not toxic to people unless consumed in very large quantities, as with any other plant, be sure they are out of reach of any person who may eat the leaves or flowers.
- Go with the flow. Some of the best times are not planned and just happen naturally.
- Don’t plan too many holiday activities during one day, or even during one month. It is OK to say “no” to too many visitors and to suggest politely that some of the local folks save their visits for other less active months.
- Remember that there doesn’t need to be activity all the time. Quiet relaxation is good for everyone. Sitting quietly and listening to Nat King Cole by the fireplace together can be just the thing you both need.