Caring for Those With Dementia at the HolidaysDec. 21, 2021
Holiday season. These two words bring up many images and memories of traditions and gatherings with family and friends.
For people and families dealing with memory and behavior changes due to dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, finding joy might be challenging — but it can be done.
The keys to a positive holiday season are about managing expectations and planning early. While the hustle and bustle that is a common theme this time of year brings some stress for all of us, this stress can be constant for individuals and families dealing with dementia or cognitive impairment.
Instead of giving up on enjoying the holiday season, here are six adjustments you can make to your family traditions.
1. Make an extra effort to keep your loved one involved
You can help provide a sense of purpose by involving your loved one in your holiday planning, preparations and other activities, such as:
- Discussing gift selections
- Opening cards together
- Listening to holiday music
- Asking for help with simple baking tasks
No matter how you spend time together, stay in the moment and try focusing on the memories you are making, rather than the outcome or perfect results.
2. Maintain a normal structure as much as possible
Even though you're busy, be consistent with medications, treatments and day programs. Sticking to the usual routine as much as possible will be better for your loved one and, ultimately, for you.
3. Choose decorations that are festive, yet safe
You can still create a beautifully decorated home during the holidays, accepting that the décor may be very different from years past.
Make sure your loved one’s living space is safe. Lighted candles may be a hazard, and large blinking lights can cause disorientation.
4. Keep gatherings stress-free
Keep activities simple and alert your guests ahead of time about your own needs and wishes.
Other tips for keeping the stress level down include:
- Lessening the number of visitors
- Simplifying the plan
- Allowing a few days of relaxation before and after large gatherings or events
5. Take steps to keep your loved one safe from illness
According to the Alzheimer's Association, dementia itself may not increase the risk of a person catching COVID-19 or the flu, but dementia-related behaviors — such as forgetting to follow prevention measures, like hand washing — might. And cognitive impairment can worsen if someone with dementia gets very ill.
From COVID-19 to the flu to the common cold, the threats are all around this holiday season. Be sure to take steps to protect your loved one from illness, including:
- Staying up-to-date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations
- Placing signs around the home encouraging hand washing and other preventive measures
- Taking respiratory symptoms seriously, knowing what to do if they appear
- Having a plan if you get sick and can no longer provide care
You can also help lower the risk of your more vulnerable loved one getting sick this holiday season by wearing a mask in indoor public spaces and avoiding crowds as often as possible.
Additionally, keep an eye on the level of spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses in your area and adjust holiday gatherings accordingly. This could mean reducing the guest list, but it could also mean switching an in-person gathering to a virtual one.
6. Care for yourself, too
Make a list of the usual things you do during the holidays and decide which you want to keep in your plan — and which you don’t mind skipping.
Allow others to help you, and be clear in what your need for them to do. Include time away for yourself, and fill this time in ways that help you regain your energy.