Dementia Tips Families Need to Know for the Holidays

Holidays can be challenging for families affected by Alzheimer’s. Try these tips to make the holidays easier and enjoyable for everyone.

The holiday season can cause mixed feelings for a family affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

While typically a time for celebration, families may experience a sense of loss for the way things used to be. For caregivers, the holidays may create added work. You’ll also have to consider the needs of the person with dementia during holiday decorating and gatherings.

By adjusting your expectations and modifying some traditions, you may find meaningful ways to celebrate holidays.

Join Dementia Solutions for a live webinar, Dementia Tips Families Need to Know for the Holidays, at 2:00 pm on December 14.

Creating a safe and calm space

To create an appropriate environment during the holidays for the person with dementia:

  • Tone down decorations. Avoid blinking lights or large decorative displays that can cause confusion. Avoid decorations that cause clutter or require you to rearrange a familiar room.
  • Avoid safety hazards. Substitute electric candles for burning candles. If you light candles, don’t leave them unattended. Avoid fragile decorations or decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats, such as artificial fruits. If you have a tree, secure it to a wall.
  • Play favorite music. Familiar or favorite holiday music may be enjoyable. Adjust the volume to be relaxing and not distressing.

Adapting holiday activities

The holidays are often filled with sharing, laughter and memories. But they can also bring stress, disappointment or sadness. Due to COVID-19 and seasonal flu, holidays can create more risk for spreading infections, especially for older adults who tend to have underlying health conditions. A person living with Alzheimer’s may feel a special sense of loss during the holidays because of the changes he or she has experienced. Caregivers may feel overwhelmed by maintaining traditions while providing care and adhering to safety precautions.

To help the person with dementia enjoy the holidays:

  • Prepare together. Mix batter, decorate cookies, open holiday cards or make simple decorations. Focus on the task rather than the outcome.
  • Host a small gathering. Aim to keep celebrations quiet and relaxed.
  • Avoid disruptions. Plan a gathering at the best time of day for the person with dementia. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible.
  • Provide a quiet place. If you are having guests over, provide a quiet place for the person with dementia to have time alone or to visit with one person at a time.
  • Plan meaningful activities. You might read a favorite holiday story, look at photo albums, watch a favorite holiday movie or sing songs.
  • Keep outings brief. If you’ll be attending a holiday gathering, plan to be brief or be prepared to leave early if necessary. Make sure there is a place to rest or take a break.

Trusting your instincts

Simplifying celebrations, planning ahead and setting boundaries can help you minimize stress and create a pleasant holiday experience for you and the person with dementia.

Celebrating at a care facility

If your family member lives in a nursing home or other care facility, try these ideas:

  • Celebrate in the most familiar setting. Because a change in environment can cause distress, consider holding a small family celebration at the facility. You might participate in holiday activities planned for the residents.
  • Minimize visitor traffic. Arrange for a few family members to drop in on different days. A large group may be overwhelming.

Preparing holiday visitors

The safest option is to plan carefully for in-person holiday gatherings with people outside of your household. Make sure that everybody is vaccinated or recently tested, test for COVID-19 frequently and consider postponing or visiting virtually if you or the person you are caring for doesn’t feel well. Below are tips and ideas for safely enjoying time with family and friends during the holidays.

To help visitors prepare for holiday time with a person with dementia:

  • Provide an update. Let guests know ahead of time about any changes in behavior or memory since their last visit. Providing a recent photo can help people prepare for changes in appearance.
  • Offer communication tips. Suggest ways for guests to listen patiently, such as not criticizing repeated comments, not correcting errors and not interrupting.
  • Suggest activities. Tell guests ahead of time what activities you have planned or suggest something they might bring, such as a photo album.

Taking care of yourself

Self-care is crucial for caregivers during the holidays. To make the season enjoyable:

  • Pick and choose. Focus on the holiday activities and traditions that are most important to you. Remember that you can’t do it all.
  • Manage others’ expectations. Set realistic expectations for what you can contribute to family holiday celebrations.
  • Delegate. Let family and friends help with cleaning, addressing cards and shopping for gifts.
  • Make time for yourself. Ask a family member or friend to give you a break so that you can enjoy a holiday outing without caregiving responsibilities.

Sign up to join Karen Tyrell, CPCA, CDCP, Dementia Consultant, Author and Co-creator of Adult Cognitive Wellness Centre for this FREE TALK to help you learn tips and strategies that families need to learn to enjoy the holidays with their loved ones.

This event is ideal for those who are caring for a loved one with early to moderate symptoms of dementia. It is also a great opportunity for those who are interested in learning more about the new Adult Cognitive Wellness Program in the lower mainland of B.C.

The Adult Cognitive Wellness Program is a small group Day Program option that focuses on organized cognitive stimulating activities in a group setting to reduce isolation for older adults with mild to moderate cognitive impairment. At the same time, this program assists caregivers with respite and offers caregiver support.

Other locations are now available for attending the Adult Cognitive Wellness Program.

Once you sign up, you will receive an email reminder 3 days before, 1 day before and one last time, 30 – minutes before the event with the Zoom link.

register here

Karen Tyrell is a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA) and Certified Dementia Care Provider (CDCP) with a passion for dementia care.

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