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  • Writer's pictureRonald Allan Caluste

Making Memories: Celebrating Holidays with Loved Ones who have Dementia or Alzheimer's

The holidays are a time for joy, togetherness, and cherished traditions. But for families with a loved one living with dementia or Alzheimer's, these celebrations can become overwhelming or confusing.  Here are some tips to ensure a meaningful and enjoyable holiday experience for everyone involved:

Planning with Purpose:

  • Focus on Familiarity:  Stick to established routines as much as possible. Plan gatherings at familiar locations and during times that fit the person's daily rhythm.

  • Less is More:  Opt for smaller, shorter celebrations instead of large, bustling gatherings. Overstimulation can be very stressful for someone with dementia.

  • Sensory Comfort:  Create a calm and predictable environment. Dim bright lights, reduce background noise, and avoid strong-smelling foods.

  • Involve, Don't Overload:  Include the person with dementia in activities they can still enjoy.  Ask them to help with simple tasks like setting the table or decorating the tree.

  • Embrace Flexibility:  Be prepared to adjust plans based on the person's mood and energy levels. Be patient, understanding, and focus on creating positive experiences.

Making Traditions Meaningful:

  • Adapt Old Favorites:  Modify traditional activities to be less demanding.  For example, listen to carols instead of singing them, or flip through old photo albums instead of creating new ones.

  • Focus on the Present:  Reminiscing about past holidays can be confusing.  Instead, create new traditions that focus on the here and now.  Simple activities like sharing stories or playing board games can be very enjoyable.

  • The Gift of Presence:  Sometimes, the most precious gift is simply spending quality time together.  Curl up on the couch, watch a favorite movie, or enjoy a quiet meal.

Creating a Supportive Environment:

  • Communicate with Guests:  Brief family and friends about the person's condition and how best to interact.  Encourage them to speak slowly, use simple language, and focus on non-verbal cues.

  • Prepare a Quiet Space:   Having a designated area where the person with dementia can rest or escape if overwhelmed can be helpful.

  • Delegate and Share Responsibilities:  Don't try to do everything yourself.  Delegate tasks like cooking, cleaning, or entertaining guests to spread the workload and ensure you have time to connect with your loved one.

Celebrating Beyond the Home:

  • Virtual Gatherings:  For those unable to attend in person, consider video calls or sending holiday greetings electronically.

  • Sensory Experiences:  Plan outings that cater to the person's remaining senses.  Visit a park to admire holiday lights, listen to a holiday concert, or enjoy a meal at a quiet restaurant.

Remember, the holidays aren't about perfection. They're about creating moments of love, connection, and joy. By focusing on what matters most – spending time with loved ones – you can make the holidays a meaningful experience for everyone, regardless of their cognitive abilities.

Embrace the spirit of the season with compassion, patience, and a willingness to adapt traditions.  In doing so, you can create lasting memories and ensure that the holidays remain a time of joy and togetherness for your entire family.

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