Make the holiday season enjoyable, even in the face of dementia
It’s officially the holiday season – the turkey is ordered, the sweet potato casserole recipe is planned and, with COVID-19 vaccines in the arms of many, safely spending time with family is on the calendar. For most of us, this time of year brings a sense of magic to the typically ordinary and everyday. We have extra pep in our step and are glad to have festive celebrations on the horizon.
For those with a loved one that has dementia, however, the holidays can lead to feelings of apprehension, stress and, sometimes, caregiver burnout. This time of year must be carefully orchestrated for those experiencing memory loss. Spreading holiday happiness to a loved one who needs memory support is important, and with some skillful planning tailored to your loved one’s memory care needs, this holiday season can be enjoyed by all.
When a Loved One with Memory Loss Lives with You
Providing full-time care for a loved one with memory loss brings its own challenges, and dealing with dementia during the holidays can cause caregivers to feel even more stress. To prevent caregiver burnout and head into the holiday season on a positive note, focus on simple adjustments you can make to keep your loved one’s needs at the forefront.
It’s commonplace to deck the halls once November hits. But for a loved one with cognitive memory issues, this can stir up feelings of uncertainty, discomfort, and panic. You’ll want to keep in mind the importance of familiar surroundings for your loved one so that your home that they’ve grown accustomed to doesn’t seem foreign during the festivities. Focus on small but meaningful decorating that your loved one will enjoy admiring. You could even try involving them in some of the decorating to bring even more meaning to what you showcase. But remember, maintaining familiarity is the key.
Spend time this holiday season baking with your loved one! Keep the recipes simple but satisfying, and use the opportunity as a sensory and memory recognition activity. A classic chocolate chip cookie is not only fun to make together, but could help bring back memories of times spent enjoying the chocolatey treat over the years.
Many individuals caring for a loved one with memory loss know the value of music for memory. Classic Christmas carols or holiday sing-alongs are wonderful opportunities to support those with cognitive decline. Take them back in time with some of the tunes they used to love and let the music take hold. This is also a great option if something else during the holiday season triggers agitation or frustration. The music can help bring a sense of comfort and relaxation to your loved one when they need it most.
When a Loved One with Memory Loss Lives in a Memory Care Support Community
If and when you’ve decided to transition your loved one to a memory care community for additional memory support services, the holidays can become a little tricky. But with the help of supportive staff and some pre-planning, this time of year can feel very similar to years past.
Plan with the people who matter most. It’s a good idea to meet or talk ahead of the holidays with those in the memory care support community who your loved one interacts with daily. They’ll be able to share insight on what your loved one has enjoyed participating in lately and what may be best to steer clear of this year. By having open conversations and by brainstorming some beneficial and constructive activities around the holidays, you will be more confident that this time of year will bring happiness.
Dropping off items that are descriptive and meaningful can also help support your loved one with memory loss during the holidays. A family Christmas photo, a personal “thinking of you” care card, or some of those homemade chocolate chip cookies we mentioned above can help your loved one feel connected to you and reassured that you are there for them during this time.
Prioritizing visits to the community becomes even more important during special times of the year, and the holidays are no exception. Since the holiday season has the potential to negatively affect your loved one, making sure to spend valuable quality time with them is important. Sing with them, open gifts with them, and spread the holiday cheer with them.
When a Loved One Can No Longer Remember the Holidays
Sometimes, memory loss can cause recognition of the holidays to disappear entirely. And that’s OK. The last thing you want to do is try to convince someone with dementia that what they perceive as real isn’t. Though it may be challenging to accept, focusing your loved one’s attention to what brings them comfort and peace is most important. This year’s holidays will just have to wait until next year.
Avoid anything holiday-related that is causing your loved one to become agitated. If they live with you, make it a point to remove or do away with anything festive that is having a negative effect. If they live in a community, make sure you talk with the staff so that you can all work together. Maybe this time of year means the staff needs to create one-on-one activities with your loved one outside of any planned festivities.
Dive into Distractions
Find what is bringing your loved one happiness during the holidays and use these as distractions. Doing what you can to redirect and limit the possibility of frustration and discomfort will help tremendously.
Refrain from Remembering
It is easy to become frustrated and find yourself wanting your loved one to remember. Especially if the holidays bring you a lot of joy, it’s natural for you to want the same for your loved one. As hard as it may be, refrain from trying to force your loved one to remember. Accept the situation and focus on what brings them happiness outside of the holidays so that you can still enjoy this time together.
Get Support During the Holiday Season
The holidays can be a challenge for those experiencing memory loss and their families. Our staff at Wesley Woods at New Albany is always available to discuss options and how to make this time of year special for everyone. All our employees are CARES® Dementia Basics™ certified, ensuring that the care your loved one receives in person-centered and catered to their unique needs.