Making Spirits Bright: Celebrating The Holidays When A Loved One Has Dementia | Avalon Memory Care

Making Spirits Bright: Celebrating The Holidays When A Loved One Has Dementia

Mistletoe and holly, fa-la-la-ing and jingle-belling and one-horse open sleighs…the holidays conjure up all sorts of memories and feelings for all of us. They are special moments in the year to gather with friends and family, share the joy and make memories. This is especially important if you have a loved one in your family living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. The holidays are a unique time to surround them with beloved traditions, the caring of others and the sensory delights of the season.

However, the holidays can also be busy and stressful, which can be overwhelming for someone with dementia. Large groups of people can be scary and disorienting, while the disruption to their routines can leave them cranky and agitated. If you’re a caregiver, the holidays pile on additional responsibilities on top of your existing, extensive to-dos. How can families find balance this holiday season?

The answer lies in understanding, patience and grace – for you and others – and a little extra coordination and planning. By knowing what to expect, taking steps to navigate potential pitfalls and plan for all sorts of situations, the holidays can be happy, merry and bright for everyone, including your loved one with dementia. Here are some of Avalon’s top tips for helping make the season holly-jolly for all your family members.

Scale it back.

It’s hard to get past the idea of throwing a picture-perfect holiday – all you have to do is turn on the television to see Norman Rockwell-esque scenes of snow falling, families laughing and the halls decked just so. Many of us put extra stress on ourselves to make the season as spectacular as possible, which leads to burning the candle at both ends, exhaustion and being as bah humbug as Ebenezer Scrooge.

This year, instead of stressing about the details and getting wrapped up in every little thing, take a moment to reflect on what’s really important to you and your family. Do you need to attend every holiday party, or can you pick and choose the ones that are most meaningful? Can you scale back the big holiday meal so it’s approachable and comfortable for your loved one with dementia? By recognizing the heart of the season – and the things you actually want to do – you’ll find that that this time of year suddenly becomes a lot less stressful (and a lot more enjoyable).

Ask for help.

The holidays can be a good time for caregivers because there are more helping hands around than usual. If you’re a family caregiver for a loved one with dementia, this is the time to lean on friends and other family members. Ask your friend to watch your loved one for a few hours while you wrap presents or go shopping. Have your sister host the annual holiday dinner this year – and do it potluck-style (or have it catered in so everyone gets to enjoy the time together). At actual family gatherings, choose a handful of family members who are willing to watch and interact with your loved one to make sure they’re calm and also having a good time.

Keep a routine.

Routine is very important for people with dementia, and it can be overwhelming, agitating and frustrating when it’s disrupted too much or too often. Whether you’re caregiving your loved one or if your loved one lives in a memory care community, be considerate of their routine in order to help them have the very best holiday experience possible. If you’re planning an outing, talk to the staff members to determine what times of day are best for Mom or Dad (and when they need a nap or a break). Try to schedule holiday meals and gatherings around “normal” times so that it fits into the flow of your loved one’s life. Finally, be sure that your loved one is able to maintain a somewhat-normal bedtime – a good night’s sleep is beneficial for all of us!

Plan activities everyone can enjoy.

What’s your favorite thing to do during the holidays? Decorating cookies? Watching a favorite holiday performance? Think about the activities and traditions that are most meaningful to you, and find ways to adapt them so that they’re accessible and fun for all members of your family. There are many fun activities that take place during the holidays, from baking cookies to decorating the home to attending holiday concerts. These are great opportunities to involve your loved one and help them feel the joy of the season. Some suggestions:

  • Bake cookies. Your loved one can help measure out the ingredients or follow simple instructions. You can also set up a “decorating station” with pre-baked cookies, frosting and toppings and have everyone use their artistic skills.
  • Watch a holiday movie. Gather ‘round the three, pop some popcorn and settle in for a movie marathon of classics and new favorites.
  • Hold a holiday dance party. Pop a favorite CD into the player (or queue up your Spotify playlist) and have a caroling party with you and your loved ones. If your loved one with dementia feels up to it, you can incorporate jingle bells or hand drums so everyone gets into the groove. Clear off a space on the floor and kick up your heels – dancing is a great form of exercise.
  • Take a trip down memory lane. Because of the way dementia affects the brain, your loved one may be able to remember their holiday celebrations from days gone by. Pull out some photo albums and flip through the photos, talking about your memories from each one. Your loved one may surprise you by sharing stories and talking about their favorite holiday memories.

Be a thoughtful gift giver.

Giving gifts is one of the best parts of the holiday season. However, when your loved one has dementia, it can be hard to know what to get him or her. Here’s a quick list of ideas to make sure your loved one has something to unwrap and enjoy:

  • Comforting items like stuffed animals, weighted blankets, cozy slippers or warm robes
  • Tools to make daily life better and easier, like a digital wall clock, calendar or a medic alert bracelet
  • Crafts and puzzles to exercise the mind, alleviate boredom and help sharpen remaining abilities
  • Favorite foods (be sure to check with caregivers or healthcare aides to ensure treats won’t interfere with their dietary needs or restrictions)
  • Memory-based gifts like photos, music, movies or mementos that harken back to the past

Enjoy every moment.

At Avalon Memory Care, we talk a lot about living in the moment and enjoying the meaningful experiences as they happen. Because of the progressive nature of dementia, we know that your loved one’s abilities will continue to deteriorate…but they will remain the same people they have always been. The holidays present a unique opportunity to spark joy, unearth memories and, most importantly, bask in the love that surrounds all of us when we get together with friends and family. No matter what stage of dementia your loved one is in, he or she is able to feel that love and compassion, which will do wonders for their well-being.

This holiday season, make the most of every moment and cherish the time you have together with your loved ones. Take pictures – you may even want to video family members for posterity – or write down meaningful moments as they happen. By enjoying your time together and not getting caught up in the details, this year’s holiday celebrations will be extra meaningful and provide you with memories that will last a lifetime.

The holidays are a special time at Avalon Memory Care, and we love being able to help our residents and family members create moments to cherish. If you’d like any more tips on how to make the holiday season meaningful for everyone in your family, or if you would like to schedule a tour of our memory care community, please contact us at (972) 713-1383.

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