The holiday season can be difficult for people caring for loved ones with dementia. Memories of past holidays can remind you how much has changed. The family may feel they should try and live up to the expectations of family traditions, but that may not be realistic.
But, adjusting your expectations and making some changes to family traditions can allow you and your family to find joy and meaning in the holiday season.
If the person with dementia is living at home, keep it simple
Prepare for the holidays together. If you have holiday baking to do, include the person with dementia in the process by having them stir batter or roll dough. Ask for their help in wrapping gifts or opening cards. Enjoy the process.
Scale down the decorations. For a person with dementia, strings of blinking lights and large decorative displays can be disorienting. Avoid safety issues by keeping tripping hazards out of the way and not lighting candles. Skip any decorations that could be mistaken for something edible.
Keep gatherings quiet and slow-paced. The music and conversation of a big family gathering can be overwhelming and overstimulating for a person with Alzheimer’s. Keep events in the home subdued and ensure that they have a quiet place they can go to rest away from the group.
Away from home
If your loved one with dementia lives away from home in a facility:
Celebrate where they are. For some people with dementia, any change of environment, like a quick trip to a family member’s home, can cause great anxiety. Consider bringing the family to them, and holding a small holiday celebration together at the facility. There may be holiday activities planned for residents that you could take part in as well.
Visit in small groups. If you have a large family, spread the visits out over a few days so your loved one is not overwhelmed. Visit in groups of two and three, rather than ten.
Visit at the right time of day. People with dementia can tire easily, especially as the disease progresses. A morning or mid-day visit may be more appropriate than afternoon or evening. If possible, visit when they are at their best.
Don’t forget to care for you
Consider your own needs this holiday season. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself.
Simplify. Scale the holidays back and simplify. Make less baked goods. Do less shopping. Scale down the holiday decorating. Ask for help with preparing holiday meals.
Pick and Choose. Remember that it’s not realistic to do everything, and decide which traditions and holiday activities are the most important for you and your family.
Ask for help. Remember those who have offered their help, and let them. Ask them to assist with cleaning or shopping, or to stay with your loved one while you run some errands.