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Planning for a Dementia-Friendly Holiday Season Hero

Planning for a Dementia-Friendly Holiday Season

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Raise your hand if you are ready for the year 2020 to be over!

The good news is we are approaching the last two months of this exhausting year.

Many holidays are celebrated in November and December such as Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years to name a few. 

For some people, the holiday season is a time of great joy, filled with fun and tradition. However for others, the holidays (even in a normal year) can be a source of sadness that triggers loneliness or depression.

Additionally, the varied emotions that emerge during this season can be even more challenging for those family members providing care to a loved one with an Alzheimer’s or other Dementia diagnosis. 

Furthermore, this time of year can be significantly taxing on those living with Dementia. The celebratory parties, music and large family gatherings can quickly turn into a major stressor for those with cognitive challenges. 

If this year has taught us anything; it’s that we can adapt and find flexible solutions in the midst of uncertainty. So for that, we should be grateful! 

If you have Dementia caregivers or relatives with Dementia in your family/friend circles here are some suggestions to consider in the coming months. 

LEAD WITH LOVE & BE FLEXIBLE 

Family Caregivers

  • Don’t expect the Caregiver to host all the social gatherings! Consider potluck-style, where several members of the group contribute to the meal. This is a gracious way to give the Caregiver a break.
  • Consider giving the ‘gift’ of your time to a Dementia caregiver.  Your holiday gift could be offering to stay with their loved one for a couple of hours, while they get out of the house and do a ‘self- care’ activity for themselves. 
  • If you are the family/friend that always hosts the holiday gathering; be understanding if the Caregiver isn’t able to make your event due to their care duties. Don’t make them feel guilty or pressured. Instead, offer to bring them some leftovers the next day as an alternative solution of inclusion. 
  • If you have a caregiving loved one or friend, who lives far away and you won’t be seeing them during the holidays; then consider calling, video conferencing or simply sending encouraging e-mails or snail mail to brighten their day and show your support. 

Those Living with Dementia

  • Keep routines intact during the holiday season. If your person typically naps from 2-3pm or goes to bed by 7:30pm then maintain that schedule and don’t accept offers that will disrupt their familiar ‘rhythm’. 
  • Limit large groups and noisy crowds. Festive stimuli can cause increased confusion for those with Dementia. If you are hosting, consider smaller gatherings with a calm and nurturing vibe that everyone agrees to adhere to. 
  • Caregivers, it’s advisable that you alert family members and other guests in advance; of what may occur during their visit or what your parameters are. Examples: “Don’t be offended if Grandpa doesn’t recognize you or calls you by the wrong name.” “If you come and visit, please limit your stay to a half hour and we cannot have visitors past 6pm.” 
  • If travel is required; be very cautious of how lengthy the trip will be, the method of transportation and how long your person with Dementia will be away from their familiar surroundings. For someone with significant confusion and movement issues, taking a three hour flight and being away from home for several days isn’t recommended. 
  • Modify your traditions, to meet their needs. If your loved one was the person who traditionally cooked the food; give them an apron and ask them to mash the potatoes. Might they fold the napkins or transfer the biscuits from the skillet to the serving dish? 
  • Be mindful of having too many precious ornaments or extravagant decorations with flashing lights or lit candles. Instead, choose less décor that isn’t easily breakable and electric candles. 
  • If a large family gathering is unavoidable, consider having festive name tags for all guests to ease the burden of remembering names. Additionally, establish a quiet space/area for your loved one with Dementia to retreat if needed. 

Please keep in mind that as you gather together with family and friends while modifying your celebrations to accommodate those living with Dementia; you are giving a priceless gift to both the care giver and receiver. 

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  • Written by Ellen Belk

    Ellen Belk, CDP is a ‘Silver’ Living Strategist and Founder of Keep In Mind, a consulting company offering a suite of services to the long term living industry and product developers in the aging space. A recognized Dementia expert specializing in holistic solutions, Belk’s four-pillar philosophy recognizes Communication, Environment, Nutrition and Engagement as a first-line of defense for quality care. She’s the inventor of Memory Magz® which are magazine-style picture publications for those with Dementia. And the author of The 360 System.™ This guide for professionals is based on her copy written TEAM approach for Championship Level Operations and Outcomes in Long Term Living.

    When she finds free time, Belk can be found outdoors, hiking, biking or nurturing her garden. She and her husband Dan live in South Carolina.

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