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Navigating the Holidays with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Navigating the Holidays with Alzheimer’s or Dementia


Posted on December 23, 2015 by Julie Smead


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Being the primary caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be especially tough during the busy, bright and noisy holidays.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your holidays happy, meaningful and stress-free – for everyone. Consider the following tips.

For Friends and Family

1. Plan ahead and communicate.

Whether you invite guests to your home or travel elsewhere, Mom or Dad may have changed significantly since the last gathering. Their behavior or appearance may catch others off-guard. And, because the person with memory loss may not remember names of even their closest relatives, you may want to consider having everyone attending wear name tags. This can help reduce the stress on those with dementia who can’t recall everyone’s name and help them feel more confident.

Before an event, prepare family and friends with an update via phone or email. An honest discussion can help set realistic expectations and avoid uncomfortable or harmful situations.

Some family members may experience sadness or regret when faced with the reality of the disease. Dealing with such emotions in advance can be helpful.

2. Make suggestions.

Keep the atmosphere calm and pleasant. Ask others to speak slowly, clearly and maintain eye contact when conversing with Mom or Dad. Request that they avoid criticizing, correcting or arguing with them.

Also, ask others to help you watch for signs of anger or frustration. Suggest ways they might soothe the person with dementia if they become upset. Some people get irritable and boisterous while others stop talking and withdraw. As the primary caregiver, you’ll know which signs to look for and have a good idea of how to handle disruptive behavior.

3. Take it easy.

Loud noises, blinking decorations and darkened rooms can confuse or upset a person with dementia. Plan breaks and set aside a quiet area where they can relax alone or enjoy spending time with one or two people.

If the person becomes agitated at any point, take a short walk to distract them and, hopefully, improve their mood.

For the Person with Dementia

1. Stick to routine.

People living with memory loss fare better when they follow a regular routine. Unfamiliar schedules, places and faces can upset or confuse them. To prevent emotional or physical exhaustion, limit events to two hours or less. If the person takes regular naps, set aside time for one. If possible, schedule activities earlier in the day to avoid “sundown syndrome,” the evening confusion common for people with dementia.

2. Prepare in advance.

Remind Mom or Dad whom they’ll be seeing by looking through photo albums ahead of time. Whip up their favorite seasonal dishes, or play familiar holiday tunes as music stirs memories and may evoke heartwarming stories of holidays past. Every bit of familiarity goes a long way toward comforting a person with memory loss.

For more on the relationship between music and memory, click here.

3. Get them involved.

Help the person with dementia feel useful by giving them small tasks such as wrapping gifts, setting the table or icing cookies. Include them in conversations and ask them to repeat favorite stories. For those living with an advanced stage of memory loss, remind them they’re special by periodically offering a reassuring word or loving touch.

4. Have an alternate plan.

Change dinner plans to brunch or lunch to keep energy levels high. Instead of traveling to events away from home, celebrate where your family member feels most comfortable. Bring a special dinner to their residence or senior living community.

Caring for a person with dementia can be both rewarding and difficult any time of the year. We hope these tips help you and your family enjoy the warmth of togetherness during this special season.

Happy holidays from your friends at Atria Senior Living.


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