Over the years, I have been asked how to best handle the approaching holidays taking into consideration the needs of our loved ones with Dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the season, keep expectations in check and enjoy time with family.
- Realign your expectations. Honestly assess what your loved one may or may not be able to handle or participate in. Instead of trying to maintain previous family traditions, know that this holiday will be different from those of the past. You may be in the position of striking a balance between family members and creating a comfortable and supportive environment for your affected loved one. It may be necessary to simplify the celebrations this year.
- Keep gatherings small. Think about having smaller gatherings this year. Large gatherings with all the noise and activity can be upsetting and confusing to your loved one. Have a “quiet” room in case things get too hectic.
- Plans. Ask your loved one, in advance, what they would like to do or what is important to them. It may be breakfast vs. dinner, singing carols vs. decorating a tree, dinner with a couple people vs. the entire extended family. Play familiar music and serve favorite traditional holiday foods.
- Distractions. Lots of things can be a distraction creating either frustration or distress for your loved one – blinking lights, loud music, a television on in the background, multiple conversations taking place at once. Maybe scale back on gift giving and wrapping. In general, less is more for your loved one.
- Ignore Disappointments. Be flexible. Agree to make the best of the holidays, the best of each situation. Enjoy the good moments, roll with the bad. Just know that it will be different.
- Physical Needs. Try to anticipate your loved one’s physical needs. Trips to the bathroom may require assistance or your loved one may become easily fatigued and need to rest or retire early.
- Conversation. Keep conversations light and simple so your loved one can join in. Sit your loved one so they can easily hear and respond to what others are saying. Make sure everyone looks and speaks directly to the person so that your loved one feels connected. Remember, older memories may be more available to your loved one than recent events.
- Activities. Talk about and show photos of family members and friends who will be visiting. Consider taking walks, icing cookies, and telling stories. Remind family and friends the best way to communicate with a person with dementia.
- Familiarize Family. Talk to family or friends, give an honest assessment of your loved one’s condition. If family members understand what to expect, stress will be less.
- Bottom line. Be calm and supportive, speak slowly with a relaxed tone, avoid anything that sounds like criticism, be patient and flexible.
Other Options to consider:
- Safe environment. Persons with dementia may experience changes in judgment leading to confusion, frustration, or wandering. Consider these tips to reduce the risk of injury or upset.
- Never leave your loved one alone. Consider assigning a “buddy” to watch out for the person to make sure they are comfortable.
- Make sure there is ample space for walking side-by-side, for wheelchairs, or walkers.
- Don’t serve alcohol, which may lead to inappropriate behavior or interactions with medications.
- Accommodate changes in vision. Place contrasting-color rugs in front of doors or steps. Avoid dark-colored rugs that may appear to be “holes.”
- Limit access to places where injuries occur, such as a kitchen or stairwell. Check temperature of water and food.
- Keep plans simple and maintain daily routines as much as possible.
- Care Facility. In some cases, it may be better for your loved one to stay in the facility, the home they know. If your loved one lives in a care facility, see if you can create a special holiday meal for them or bringing in their favorite dish.
The holidays are opportunities to share time with people you love. Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself and with the person with Dementia disease so that you may concentrate on enjoying your time together.