Happy Holidays for Those with Dementia

Posted on December 21, 2019 at 11:45 AM

Who doesn't want to have a wonderful, peaceful, warm-feeling holiday season?  We all want to feel comfortable and loved, as much as possible.  We strive to make our holidays especially joyful, even if we can't guarantee this throughout the entire year.  Even those who don't celebrate the holidays get up each day to make it better than the last.  Sometimes, this is easier said than done.  Especially during the short and cold days of Winter.

Add dementia, health issues, and others who are not at their best, and the scale tips fully to the floor.  How does one start over, and try to keep it together for the holidays?  And how can we make it easier for our loved ones who have any of the dementias?

Here are some suggestions to make visiting a family member with dementia better:

  • Prepare guests for what to expect when interacting with family who have dementia.  Explain to them that there might be behaviors which they are not used to seeing, but which might happen with more frequency now.  For example, let them know that their family member might eat with their hands, wander, or have bouts of incontinence.  They can look to you or a caregiver for cues on how to deal with certain behaviors, and be supportive, instead of being shocked or upset by what is happening.

  • A first visit with family with dementia can be shocking and uncomfortable.  Talking about this ahead of time can help to prepare one to view actions and behaviors they are not used to seeing.  Explain that the loved one may not remember their name; however, they can enjoy their company.  Precious time spent together is more important than remembering everything from the past.  Make new moments together, in the "now."  Also, let them know what the family member can still understand, or still do.  Give them suggestions on how to begin conversations, using eye contact, and saying something like, "Hello Rhoda, my name is John, and we used to spend holidays together."  Ask them to not correct the family member, but to talk about the feelings expressed, or change the subject.

  • Help and get help to maintain family traditions and rituals you might have during this season.  It is impossible to "do it all," and I especially say this to caregivers.  Please don't be afraid to ask for help.  Others usually want to be helpful.  Receiving help can feel uncomfortable, at first, so watch how others light-up when being allowed to help you and your loved one.

  • Explain how hallucinations might happen, and that the loved one is not trying to be obstinate. Memory loss is part of the disease and is not intentional. Helpers, like redirecting the loved one's attention, or even humor go a long way to make both involved feel that they can continue to move forward during the visit.

  • Share articles, websites, and other information about the disease with family and friends.  Allow them to find out more about the dementia, and how they can be of assistance.  Sometimes giving information about support groups can help ease any fear and sadness they may have around a visit with family with dementia.

Finally, try to hold family gatherings during a time of day which is best for the family member with dementia.  Keep the atmosphere calm and as quiet as you can in a family setting.  Don't use a loud voice or talk to the family member as if they were a child.  Some people also have hearing issues, but just be aware of your presence in the room and tone of voice.  Respect the family member's personal space, and don't sit too close. 

Tis the season to be aware of things outside of our own selves, and this can be good practise for how to do unto others as you would have done unto you.  Many gifts can come from being in that frame of mind.  It's the magic of the holiday season!  You can feel blessed experiencing it.  Happy Holidays.

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