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5 Tips for a Successful Holiday for Your Loved One with Dementia

While the holidays are a time many of us feel a great pull to be with our loved ones with dementia, we may set them up for failure and possible decline due to our need to celebrate the holidays. For instance, my Mom almost always, in the last eight years, has had a bit of a decline after every major holiday or event where many people visited, and there were many events over a period of a few days. All of us have a hard time functioning when our brain is taxed by overstimulation, and for some reason, many people with dementia seem to have a hard time bouncing back to their previous level of functioning after big events like this.

The holidays are also a time when I get many calls from family members about a loved one who suddenly has an increase in aggressive behavior such as hitting, or increased anger. This is really common when we change their schedule drastically or keep putting them in unfamiliar places. For instance, taking a parent with dementia to their child’s house for the holidays may seem like an obvious thing to do. However, this is a place they do not spend as much time at, and it can feel very uncomfortable. Their stress level is increased in a new place. Then maybe they can’t find the bathroom, and they have to sit in a different spot to eat at a table they do not know. They may get overwhelmed and seem angry or they may ask to go home. If we say it’s not time to leave, some people may put on their coat and walk out the door, we try and stop them, and they push us down. These are the stories we often hear around the holiday.

Here are a few ideas, depending on your situation, which you can use to set up your loved one with dementia up for success this holiday season:

  1. Have the holiday celebration at their home rather than taking them into someone else’s home. They will be more comfortable and feel more in control of the situation. You can set up and bring all the food in order to make it easier on your loved one and whoever lives with them, or the care community they live in.

  2. Schedule your holiday party at a time that would make the most sense for your loved one’s schedule. If your father, who has dementia, normally eats dinner at 5:30pm, schedule the main part of the party and dinner at that time rather than a brunch at 11am.

  3. If your loved one is too confused in large groups and shuts down, visit in small groups over a few days. I know this means you won’t all celebrate together, but this means you get more actual interaction with your loved one with dementia, as well as allowing them to be comfortable and engage better with others in the room.

  4. Remember, engagement and relationship is more important than traditions. This was a hard thing for me to accept, but forcing my Mom into a schedule or an event due to “tradition” was totally missing the point of a tradition, which is to spend quality time together, strengthening the bonds you have.

  5. Consider not decorating or limiting decorations in their home. Decorations are wonderful, but they change the space completely and provide a lot of confusion for people with dementia. They can also be a safety hazard. For more information on the issues of decorations and dementia, please see my post: Decorations and Dementia: A Few Things to Consider.


Rev. Katie

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