Holidays Dementia

The Holidays and Dementia

For a lot of people, the holidays are a favorite time of the year. The days are about family traditions, recalling old memories, creating new ones, and the hustle and bustle of the season. But for families affected by Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, the holidays can also be difficult.  For people living with dementia, there may come a time when it’s just not feasible or practical to do everything they once did.  How do we celebrate special occasions when one or more of the people involved doesn’t remember, or even understand what the celebration is about or gets anxious and confused by all of the extra activities?

First, adjust your expectations. It’s common for people with dementia to lack enthusiasm and interest in the holidays. They may not remember past traditions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to honor those traditions. You may need to reduce the number of activities an individual is involved in or even the number of people involved. Consider how your loved one could safely participate—whether it’s decorating their own residence, baking holiday foods, or creating homemade greeting cards. Many individuals with dementia enjoy handling paper, so wrapping gifts together or even folding holiday cards is another way of connecting them with the holiday.

Do your best to maintain routines and familiar settings. Changes to the daily schedule can increase disorientation and anxiety. New environments and/or the presence of new or many people around can upset a person with dementia. Be aware that you and/or they may also feel a sense of loss, anxiety, or holiday blues.  This may occur because they miss a loved one they lost a long time ago, they don’t recognize the people around them, or they feel that someone is missing.

Music, whether seasonal or not, can cause a positive shift in mood. Try engaging the individual in singing songs together or dancing, but watch their reaction carefully. A particular melody that evokes a soothing memory for one person might be quite upsetting for another. Depending on the setting, it may be more practical to have ambient music playing in the background.

If appropriate, try to spark memories by bringing out family photo albums or heirlooms. Help stimulate memories by gently offering descriptions as you present each object. Keep the frustration level low by not asking your loved one to name people, places, or other facts.

By adjusting your expectations and modifying some traditions, you just might find that the real joy in the season comes from simply being and reminiscing with the ones we love. From all of us here at Kemper House, we wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season!

-Jenny Kemper

 

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