I love the holidays; don’t you? They are a time when family and friends often come together. But for families living with loved ones who have dementia, the holidays can be tiring and stressful. With some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can still be happy, memorable occasions. Some suggestions include preparing the guests, adjusting expectations and involving the person with dementia in safe, manageable activities.
Prepare the Guests. Explain what has happened to the person with dementia. Give examples of the memory loss behaviors your loved one with dementia (the patient) may have. For example the patient may not remember your name or relationship. However, what is most important is the meaningfulness of the moment spent together and not what the person remembers.
Adjust expectations. Traditional holiday activities which the family has enjoyed throughout the years may have to change. You are not obligated to attend every social gathering of the season. Remember that each commitment you agree to means that you are also saying no to time to relax, time to prepare, and time to spend with prime loved ones. Set your limits early, stick to them and be clear about them with others. You do not have to live up to the expectations of others.
Be good to yourself. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. If you’ve always invited 15 to 20 people to your home, consider inviting only a few guests for a simple meal. It will keep the noise level down, easier to manage, and less tiring. Let others contribute.
Do a variation on a theme. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, consider changing a holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch. Keep the hours of entertaining short. Guests might go sightseeing during hours you don’t want to entertain, giving you and your loved one a chance to rest and relax.
Involve the person with dementia in safe, manageable activities. This can help to prepare the person for the holiday and give you an opportunity to spend quality time together.
Involve the person in holiday preparation. As the person’s abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or give decorations to you as you put them up.
Maintain a normal routine. This will help keep the holidays from becoming disruptive or confusing. Plan for breaks and rest throughout the day.
Build on past traditions and memories. Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums.
I wish you and your family a very happy holiday season.