Holidays are full of families and traditions, but can be a challenge for families living with dementia. With a little planning and adjustments, the holidays can still be an enjoyable time for your family.
- Update others of your current status with a short note or phone call to briefly explain some of the changes visitors might notice; ask for their understanding, acceptance, and flexibility.
- Modify the traditional holiday routine. Keep your loved one’s regular routine as much as possible.
- Recognize your limits. Delegate and manage only what you can, NO guilt. Boundaries are good. Pare down big traditions and expectations.
- Build on past memories and traditions by involving your loved one in manageable tasks by breaking them down into smaller, safe components.
- Schedule events during their best time of day, starting new traditions as needed. For example, do holiday brunch instead of dinner if sundowning is a problem or mornings are better.
- Adapt gift giving as needed. What was once enjoyed may not now be appropriate. Ask others to consider intangible gifts such as “one-on-one time together” coupons, caregiver respite, etc.
- Limit yourself to only what you can handle in shopping/gift giving. Also, include the person with dementia in gift giving.
- Use nametags, speak names & pronouns together. Assist your loved one in recall with tactful, subtle cues & reminders. Plan how to engage them at gatherings. Keep their dignity intact.
- Use all of the senses to enjoy the sights, sounds, & scents of the holiday season. Visit decorated neighborhood light displays, attend familiar church/community services, bake together, enjoy holiday music or videos.
Realize that perceptions change, which can make too much decorating very overwhelming, blinking lights may be scary, or certain decorations could be interpreted as treats.
- Be gracious and flexible, have a “plan B” quiet spot to go to, a less stimulating alternative activity, or someone who will tend to your loved one apart from the crowd if it’s “too much.”
With advanced planning, you and your loved one can avoid the frenzy of the holidays. By ensuring that everything is in your loved one’s best interest, the season is made less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.
By Pam Kovacs Johnson