The holidays can be difficult when you have a loved one with dementia. You might mourn past holiday traditions that your loved one no longer remembers. Dementia can cause your loved one to become confused, overwhelmed or angry during holiday events. Finding meaningful ways to include your loved one in holiday celebrations while minimizing stressful situations can help you create positive memories.
Dementia affects everyone differently, so consider your loved one's specific needs and situation to plan holiday events. Schedule your festivities at a time of day when your loved one is typically at their best. Consider what makes your loved one feel confused or upset, and avoid those things during holiday celebrations. Plan activities, such as craft projects or games, that your loved one can do, so they can actively participate.
Too many decorations, especially if they're distracting, can cause someone with dementia to feel overwhelmed or confused. Flashing lights and loud musical decorations are examples of things that could cause stress for a loved one with dementia. Candles can also be dangerous. Stick with cool-touch holiday lights or LED candles to eliminate flames around your loved one. Avoid large displays that force you to rearrange furniture, which can also cause confusion.
Calm, familiar locations are ideal for holiday celebrations. If your loved one lives in a memory care or assisted living community, you might plan a holiday celebration there since they're familiar with it. Autumn View Gardens offers a private dining room that can be used for family gatherings and parties. If your loved one is comfortable in your home, that can also serve as a familiar spot for holiday gatherings.
Loud locations with lots of people can be overwhelming for someone with dementia. Plan smaller, quieter holiday events to avoid causing stress or confusion. If you're concerned about noise or overwhelming situations, plan for a quiet room where your loved one can go to escape the overwhelming environment. Even if it's a small, quiet gathering, your loved one might need some time to rest away from the activity.
Familiar holiday decorations and songs can be comforting for a person with dementia, even if they don't fully remember them. You might put together a holiday playlist with the songs you always listened to at parties or pull out the old decorations from Christmases long ago. A photo album of pictures from past Christmases can be a meaningful addition to the celebration. Even familiar smells, such as the cinnamon potpourri your loved one always used to make for holidays, can create a familiar, comforting setting.
Your loved one might not remember their favorite cookie recipe by heart anymore, but they can still help with adding ingredients, stirring the dough and cutting out cookie shapes with supervision. Find ways to include your loved one in the holiday preparations to keep them engaged. You might give them ornaments to hang on the tree or ask them to set the table for Christmas dinner.
Dementia robs your loved one of many of their memories, but you can still enjoy those special traditions as a family, even if they don't remember everything. That might mean baking and decorating Christmas cookies together or cooking the same meal you served for every holiday. Perhaps you used to go to Christmas Traditions in St. Charles or the Holiday Lights Drive-Thru at Grant's Farm and want to do those activities again. Watching a certain Christmas movie or singing Christmas carols might be a tradition for your family.
If some of your family members aren't as involved with your loved one, they might not know how to interact with them. They might not be familiar with dementia or how it affects your loved one specifically. Give them a rundown of what to expect in terms of behaviors and provide some suggestions for how to interact with your loved one. Mention ways they can avoid overwhelming the person with dementia to make the holidays as happy for everyone as possible.
The holidays can make it difficult for anyone to stay on a normal schedule. However, keeping your loved one's schedule as similar to normal as possible can help them. People with dementia benefit from routines to help them feel calm and know what to expect. Holiday parties aren't part of the typical routine, but keeping other things similar can help. For example, try to keep meals at the normal time and avoid late parties that will make your loved one miss their normal bedtime.
You want to make Christmas a happy occasion for everyone, but you don't want to sacrifice your mental or physical health to achieve that. Take care of your needs, including sleep, healthy eating, exercise and stress relief, to avoid burning out. Establish your boundaries early, including giving yourself the option to say no to holiday events others want you to attend. Remember that the holiday doesn't have to be perfect, and you don't have to do anything big to make it successful.
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