5 Tips to Help Someone with Dementia Enjoy the Holidays

Hosting the Holidays?

So you drew the short straw and everyone’s coming to your house this holiday season. Including all the siblings, cousins, grand-people, and kids, you’ll have a house full of guests.

To be the “hostess with the most-ess,” as my mom used to say, and someone with memory issues or dementia will be there, the following recommendations are very important.

[Read: How My Brother Inspires Me]

What should be a wonderful, festive, family event over an abundance of food, timeless traditions, and reminiscing can implode in seconds without careful planning. It’s not running out of mashed potatoes that will define the holiday as a success or as a failure, but your loved one with dementia – agitated, confused, and overwhelmed – that may.

Whether it’s your parent, Uncle Joe, or the usually sweet but addled neighbor lady next door, please consider these tips.

[Read: Don’t Forget to Celebrate the Tiny Victories]

1. Inform your guests. Sharing information with others that someone has confusion, memory issues, and perhaps irritability is not disrespectful. It is out of genuine concern that you make your guests aware in advance as to what to expect from that person. Honest and thoughtful transparency is essential.

2. Minimize the chaos. Most likely your holiday gathering will be bustling with activity.  If possible designate an area, ideally a separate room, where the more boisterous guests can gather – a finished basement is perfect, but not an option for everyone – or conversely a quiet room for the person with dementia and at least one other person for him or her to engage with. They should not be sequestered alone.

Excerpt from I Will Never Forget:
Mom couldn’t process what the recipe instructions were telling her to do. I had not observed this disconnection before. I quietly got out the cauliflower and helped her get started.

“If you cut the cauliflower into pieces Mom, I’ll start with the mushrooms.” Immediately I detected a sense of relief from her as if she had been rescued from the strangle hold of confusion.

She smiled and said, “Okay.”

While my mother hung out in the kitchen with me, everyone else gathered in the living room, by my design. One at a time, they stepped into the kitchen to acknowledge her.

[Read: ‘What’s a Kitchen?’ The Cold Hard Truth of Alzheimer’s]

3. Control the Time. Holidays are often an open-house format. They may revolve around
a central time, like dinner on Thanksgiving, but some guests may arrive early and others stay late.

Unless they live with you, the person with dementia will probably do better if their visit is limited and not trapped there all day. This may require a designated driver to chauffeur them.

Excerpt from I Will Never Forget:
After Christmas morning, my husband Joe headed out to get my mom.

When they returned Mom’s face lit up brightly when she saw her granddaughter Christie. Mom’s blue eyes still sparkled, and her smile exuded warmth and comfort.

I was concerned again about Mom transitioning back to her place, but she was exhausted. She smiled as I kissed her good night, and I said, “I’m glad you were with us for Christmas.” “I’m glad too …”

If they do live with you, be observant to the cues that your loved one is fading and ready for the couch or their bedroom.

[Read: 25 MORE Tips for Visiting a Person with Alzheimer’s]

4. Let them help. Although Mom’s ability to read and process a recipe was long gone, she could do one job at a time: cut cauliflower or peel potatoes. It required a little thoughtful planning to keep her productively busy, not overwhelmed nor demeaned, but she was engaged and in the kitchen with me.

If the kitchen isn’t the best place for your confused guest, then arrange some activities for them to do elsewhere like fold napkins or sort silverware.

[Read: What If Grandma Never Had Alzheimer’s?]

5. Include them specifically. Your loved one with dementia will not be able to initiate self-soothing or self-engaging activities. Plan ahead to have a sing-a-long or drag out photo albums for them to peruse through. Have some conversation starters ready especially for someone else to initiate: “Mom, tell your niece about that train ride across the country you took in your 20s.” “Uncle Joe, tell me about that red convertible you drove in high school.” “Mrs. Davis, how did you meet Mr. Davis?”

Excerpt from I Will Never Forget:
“Mom beamed when I asked her about her mom, my grandma Lillian Oberle.”

There’s no one size fits all approach to helping someone with memory issues be comfortable and calm through the crazy bustle of holiday events. It’s crucial first to admit they need special attention and plan ahead to keep the environment appropriate, whatever that means to them.

[Read: The Caregiving and Meditation Connection]

Everyone deserves to have a nice holiday, but it’s on us to accommodate those who are struggling with dementia!

This article by Elaine C. Pereira originally appeared on FamilyAffaires.com

About the Author

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Delivering the support you need for your stressful life events today. You are not alone. Every day a family, just like yours, begins a transition into a new way of life. If you’ve just experienced a life changing event such as a divorce proceeding, job loss, caring for aging parents, received a cancer diagnosis or are coping with special needs children, know you’re in the right place. www.FamilyAffaires.com.

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