Your Dementia Patient and the Holidays

In the hustle and bustle of the busy holiday season, it can be easy to accidentally exclude your loved one in the chaos of planning and celebrating with family. Loud and bright decorations, changes in environment, and a wave of new faces can overwhelm and disorient your loved one. On the flip side, secluding them from holiday festivities can make both of you feel disconnected and depressed.

Celebrating holidays can be a joyous affair and a break from the normalcy of day-to-day living, but can also end up being overwhelming for your dementia patient for a multitude of reasons. But there’s no need to cancel plans or hurry home early — we’ve got some guidance on how to make celebrations more enjoyable for you and your loved one.

Plan Ahead Before the Holidays

Before all the celebrations, activities, and parties begin, take a few simple steps ahead of time to ensure your loved one’s situation is as comfortable as possible.

  • Be clear about what you can and cannot do and communicate that to the others. You don’t have to live up to your friends’ and relatives’ expectations. You are in an entirely different situation. Take on only what you can handle.
  • Communicate any recent changes in memory recall or behavior to family members visiting from out of town, so they know what to expect beforehand. Likewise, let your loved one know beforehand that family members are visiting and give them periodic reminders. If not hosting a large gathering, try to arrange for small groups to visit on different days to make things less overwhelming.
  • Make sure your loved one is vaccinated for the flu, coronavirus, and any other immunizations recommended by their doctor before any large family gatherings. Seniors are especially vulnerable to respiratory infections and other diseases. Encourage people to mask up during gatherings, especially when interacting with seniors or other vulnerable individuals in the home.
  • Involve your loved one in holiday preparations. If they cannot or refuse to help, try and get them to observe what you’re doing. This can help them feel involved, bring up pleasant memories of the past, and inspire them to contribute to simple tasks.
  • Ensure your dementia patient has a quiet space to return to and rest if they get too tired.
  • If you plan to have a large gathering, try giving name tags to each guest, especially if grandchildren are involved. Individuals with dementia usually take visual cues, and name tags can help them greatly. Turn this into a fun holiday tradition with holiday-themed nametags!
  • Try simplifying your holiday celebrations. Instead of holding lavish celebrations or dinner, try inviting close family and preparing a small dinner. If you’ve already got a large gathering planned, no worries — just take a few extra steps to ensure your loved one is comfortable, some of which will be outlined below.

What You Can Do To Make Your Loved One With Dementia Comfortable During The Holidays

Here are a few tips you can use during the holidays to keep your loved one comfortable during the holiday season.

Keep noise to a minimum

Small, intimate gatherings are best, but if your family is bigger, try to arrange a separate room away from the loudest hustle and bustle for those sensitive to noise and sensations to spend their time in, or retreat to and relax. Make sure you aren’t cordoning them off, especially if they’re alone — keep them close enough to interact with other guests and join the holiday festivities! Check in with your care recipient frequently and play quiet music or have a holiday movie on to keep them entertained.

Keep the conversation flowing!

The holidays are a time for maintaining family peace and harmony. Therefore, having light-hearted conversations including your loved one during this time is essential. Other family members may be especially eager to speak to them after a long time away, so encourage conversation! Give some communication pointers beforehand to family members unfamiliar with dementia and MCI to help navigate conversations more easily for both parties.

Look through old photos and memories together

Instead of asking direct questions like “Do you remember where we took this photo?” or “How old were we here?”, try saying things like “I love how the stars look in this picture”.

Going through photo books together is an excellent way of making simple and light-hearted conversations that your loved one will enjoy as they recall the fond feelings of these memories — even if they don’t remember all the details.

Get them to help around the house

If they’re able, try to get your loved one with dementia to help with basic tasks or in the kitchen during holiday preparations. This can make them feel important, valued, and needed. Moreover, the smell of delicious food cooking can be highly therapeutic and comforting. Give them simple, accessible tasks, but don’t hawk over them — let them enjoy the moment!

Play their favorite music or movie

Music and movies are an easy and fantastic way to connect the whole family, and may spur happy memories for your loved one. Seasonal songs, shows, and movies are a low-cost, low-effort way to bring people together and add some pleasant background noise for those who cannot help out as others prepare dinner and activities.

As things get busy, pay special attention to your loved one’s needs

It’s up to you — and fellow caregivers you designate to help out — to ensure that your loved one is doing okay. Make sure they’ve eaten and are staying hydrated. Make note of specific cues and relay them to less experienced people who will be helping watch over them during the festivities. With things being a little more chaotic than usual, make sure somebody’s designated to keep an eye on them. This is especially true if you’ve traveled for the holidays — dementia patients may feel uncomfortable or attempt to wander in unfamiliar environments! Be reassuring and patient with them during this time — it can be a lot of sensations to take in at once, even with proper care taken ahead of time.

Give yourself a break.

You can’t do it all. Make sure you set some time aside for you to relax and decompress too — as we mentioned above, communicate boundaries beforehand. Try delegating tasks to other available family members too, such as cleaning up or doing the dishes.

The holidays can be a source of stress for you and your loved one with dementia, or they can be a time of joy and celebration for all.

What’s most important is to find a balance to ensure everyone’s comfort and enjoyment. Implementing a few steps ahead of time can be a huge boon before the dinners and parties kick off and make things easier for everyone. And from our team at Evva to you and your family — happy holidays!

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