Dementia and the Holidays Top 10 Tips

At a time when most of us are stringing lights, trimming trees and jingling the bells, our friends and family diagnosed with dementia may be struggling to understand it all.  December can be an exceptionally stressful month for people living with dementia, even in typical years. Adding the social isolation required to avoid a virus running rampant in the land adds another element to the weirdness and can make the holidays even more difficult.

Not surprisingly, how to help people with dementia enjoy (or at least best tolerate) holiday celebrations is a common topic. So, we decided to conduct an informal survey of the advice experts give for helping people with dementia and their caregivers during the holidays. The results are a list of the greatest hits, best-of-the-best, top-ten dementia care tips and advice for the holidays. And, of course, since it’s still the time of COVID, we’ve also summarized some tips for celebrating during a pandemic.

We surveyed advice from the Mayo Clinic, the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institutes of Health, and several independent expert organizations.

Top 10 Holiday Dementia Care Tips

  1. Plan and Prepare – Every organization and expert had a lot to say about the benefits of being prepared.
  2. Involve the person with dementia in preparation, or just let them be present while you prepare. Whether or not they participate, they will feel more a part of the celebration and be able to anticipate and reminisce. Focus on the activity, not the outcome.
  3. Create a safe and calming space for everyone to celebrate in. Decorate using simple decorations with no flashing lights or gaudy displays. Avoid clutter or rearranging furniture. Avoid lighted candles, fragile decorations, or any other hazardous decorations.
  4. Set up a separate, quiet space for your loved one with dementia to retreat to when uncomfortable or agitated. Have enjoyable activities ready: simple puzzles, picture albums, and favorite music and headphones to help the person regain calm.
  5. Prepare your guests for interacting with a person with dementia. Explain: the care environment, how people with dementia may behave and how changes in behavior and memory are the result of the disease, not the intention of the person. Provide guidelines for conversations, such as to listen patiently without interrupting, to avoid pointing out repeated comments or correcting errors, etc.
  6. Celebrate in a familiar location and in familiar ways with just a few family members and friends. Play familiar holiday music at a low volume, sing carols, celebrate with traditional holiday foods, watch a holiday movie, or light an advent candle or menorah. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible.
  7. Less is More – For you and for your loved one with dementia, keep it simple. For you – if your to-do list as long as your arm, consider cutting back or delegating tasks to other family members to free up some time for yourself. (See “Make time for yourself,” below for some ideas.)
  8. Use the Force – Don’t be afraid to ask for help – set your own limits and be clear about communicating your limits to your friends and relatives. Have this 800-number handy – (800) 272-3900. Join a support group in advance.
  9. Care for Caregivers – The current COVID-19 crisis creates additional challenges that can overwhelm families impacted by dementia. It’s more important than ever to take care of your physical, mental and emotional well-being.
  10. Make time for yourself. Set aside your own time to rest, exercise, make healthy foods and spend time outside. Assign a few tasks to a family member or friend so that you can shop or enjoy a holiday drive on your own.

COVID Era Tips

For most of us this year, we should limit our celebrations to virtual visits via video call software like Zoom or Skype or phone calls. If you decide to risk in-person visits (which as of this writing would be only people in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Maine, or Vermont since every other U.S. state is at severe active outbreak levels), remember the following:

For more sensible celebrations

  • No contact goody and gift drop off reduces risk
  • Have family members and friends drive by during a pre-set time to wave or display holiday greetings for your loved one.
  • Schedule a visit outside that is properly socially-distanced.
  • Walk or drive around the neighborhood to view holiday lights and decorations.
  • Connect online via Zoom or Skype with help from a family member or staff.
  • Plan a video call to cook or bake a special recipe together.
  • Record and send a family video holiday card including personalized messages.

All is Calm, All is Bright

After a year like we’ve had, finding calm over the holidays is a brilliant idea for ALL of us.  So many people have said this year that they’ve learned to slow down, to be more in the moment, it find joy in simple things of life and spend time with the ones that matter most to them in life.  Sounds a lot like the day-in-the-life of our loved ones with dementia.  What a beautiful, bright lesson they teach us every day.

Sources Also available via chat and email.

By |2020-12-17T14:17:47-06:00December 17th, 2020|Categories: Alzheimer's, Avalon Memory Care, Dementia, Memory Care, Senior Health|0 Comments