It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
That song lyric is so true for so many, and your loved one with dementia may be one of them. The Alzheimer’s Society of the United Kingdom (www.alzheimers.org.uk) has provided 8 ways to make the holiday truly wonderful for them … and for you.
- Put decorations up gradually. Think about putting them up slowly over several days so it doesn’t come as a big change all at once to your loved one’s usual setting. Some people even get started the day after Thanksgiving. Incorporate the old, familiar wreaths and ornaments they might recall from their childhoods or while raising their children.
- Keep it simple and familiar. Those with dementia may feel easily overwhelmed over the holiday season, so it’s best not to overdo it. Stick to their regular routine wherever possible, with meals at their regular times and in a familiar place. Keep the day’s activities low-key, with lots of time to relax. If they used to go to church but are now unable to, consider online or televised services.
- Get everyone involved. There are many little ways to include your loved one with dementia in the holiday spirit. From something as simple as hanging a bauble on the tree to joining in a Christmas carol sing-along are easy ways to make them feel included. Sticking labels on envelopes for Christmas cards, or even making one or two special hand-made cards can be fun ways to involve them in holiday preparations.
- Create a quiet area. Be sure to designate one room or space in the house where your loved one can relax when things get a bit too noisy or chaotic.
- Bring back old memories. Whether it’s an old holiday song or favorite Christmas movie, this time of year is a great one for rekindling old memories. Making a family photo album or memory box together is a lovely way to share time with them. Remember to avoid doing things that might trigger upsetting memories, or people they miss. Some of you can create files of photos (or even a whole tablet or i-pad designated for just this purpose) that you can update and caption with people, places, and events that are dear to them.
- Be mindful of food. Most of us tend to over-eat throughout the holiday season, especially on Christmas Day. But a full plate can be daunting for someone who has difficulties eating. Small portions of holiday favorites is a better way to go. And don’t overdo the sweets.
- Be flexible. Though it’s easy to get caught up in “the way things have always been done,” it’s always worthwhile to have a Plan B, and be prepared to change your plans if a particular element isn’t working. Don’t take it personally if all your best-laid plans go awry.
- Plan ahead. Consider minimizing situations where your loved one is called upon to remember names. As guests arrive, you might give them a gentle reminder, or ask the newcomer to introduce themselves. Speaking with family members in advance, especially young children, may help avoid embarrassing moments for them. If your loved one lives in a memory care community, it can be helpful to find out what their plans are, any restrictions they might have, who can visit and for long etc.
The true spirit of Christmas is all about the arrival of new hope, a new chance to express love and good will, and the great joy of being together. With a little thoughtful planning, it really can be the most wonderful time of the year!