While festive, the holidays also can be stressful, with chaotic schedules, last-minute shopping and massive preparations for time with family and friends. And if you have a loved one with dementia, it can be an even more demanding time of year.
“Planning for the holidays is key,” says Dr. Paul Mazzeo, board-certified neurologist and medical director of the Beaufort Memorial Memory Center. Follow his suggestions on how to make this holiday season successful alongside someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
- Involve a loved one with dementia in the preparations. Opening holiday cards together may help trigger long-term memories. Hanging ornaments on the tree and stirring the Christmas cookie batter can provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction.
- Try to avoid overstimulation with elaborate holiday displays of blinking lights and large decorations that can lead to disorientation. Avoid lighted candles and decorations that may be mistaken for edible treats. Alcohol should be restricted.
- You may wish to limit the size of gatherings if your loved one is easily confused and agitated. Advising your guests ahead of time that the person may not remember them will limit the distress caused by “Do you remember me?” questions. A phone call to guests in advance of a visit will provide happy anticipation and may facilitate recognition.
- Schedule gatherings at the best time of day for your loved one with dementia. Limit the duration of gatherings to what you feel he or she can tolerate. Realize those suffering from dementia tire easily, which often manifests as increased confusion.
- Maintaining a routine is important; it provides an anchor in the here and now. Gatherings should be held in the person’s most familiar surroundings. For a person residing in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, however, the increase in activity caused by visits from other residents’ friends and relatives can lead to disorientation. Use your best judgment as to whether your loved one will feel safer and more secure with structured activities in the facility or at an outing with friends and family.
- Gifts for a person with dementia should account for impairments. An electric coffee or teapot that turns off automatically, calendars and medication holders are particularly good gifts, as they help the recipient adapt to the illness. Less practical but more emotionally gratifying gifts can be family photo albums, familiar music, recordings of church sermons and gift certificates for a hairstyle or manicure. Avoid items that are breakable or irreplaceable.
“If you are a caregiver, do not forget to reserve time for yourself,” says Dr. Mazzeo. “Set limits on events – and stick to them – to keep from being overwhelmed.” And remember: despite the challenges of dementia, the holidays still can be a rewarding time for you and your family.
Are you or someone you love concerned about memory loss? Contact our Memory Center.