The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for families with loved ones who have dementia, the holidays are not always wonderful. Living with dementia can make socializing with family and friends uncomfortable. Decorations, music, and lights can be overstimulating for some people. For caregivers, pressure to maintain traditions and celebrations can be stressful. Making adjustments to these usual holiday celebrations and traditions can help the holiday go a little smoother.
The first thing you can do is consider taking time to think about traditions that are most important. Think about how realistic those traditions are and how they can be adjusted to better suit you and your loved one. If cooking dinner and having the gathering at your house is an important tradition, maybe it can be changed to a pot luck to reduce the stress of cooking. If a family gathering becomes too overstimulating consider setting up your loved one in a calmer part of the house and have family visit in smaller groups. If your loved one was often involved in holiday traditions such as decorating or baking, try to simplify tasks so they can continue to be a part of it. Instead of having them bake cookies, ask them to help frost or pack up the cookies. Keep holiday decorations simple so your loved one can help decorate and it won’t be overstimulating. Even though changing family traditions can be difficult, making small adjustments helps make the holiday season more enjoyable for everyone.
It may be beneficial to have a discussion with family and friends before any gatherings. Setting clear expectations with everyone about changes that need to be made to common traditions ahead of time helps everyone understand your needs. Discussing things such as changes in behaviors or memory and communication tips can help set everyone up for a successful time together. It could also be helpful to discuss activities your loved ones enjoys or appropriate gifts for them. Having these open discussions ahead of time helps everyone to be as prepared as possible.
Lastly, it is important to understand that no matter how many adjustments you make and how much you prepare for the holidays, they still can be a stressful time. Making time for yourself during the holidays is especially important. If there is a tradition or holiday activity you really don’t want to miss, ask a friend or another family member to stay with your loved one so you can enjoy something for yourself. Also, try to plan ahead and schedule some respite time for yourself after the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over.
When you start to notice memory changes, seeking early detection is key. Senior Services offers an array of memory support programs including confidential memory screenings to obtain a cognitive baseline, early memory loss programs, and educational classes along with support from Seasons Adult Day Health Services. If you or someone you know is experiencing increasing changes with their memory and could benefit from additional services, please contact Amy Sheridan, Family Support and Activity Manager at 989-633-3764.
Check out our section, Our Mind Matters, next month as we share useful communication tips and strategies when speaking with someone with dementia.