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Preparing Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s or Other Forms of Dementia for Celebrating the Holidays

Holidays can be a meaningful time for friends and family to reconnect with one another over special traditions and rituals. These special celebrations that honor the past can be especially reassuring for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, crowds and overstimulation can make the holiday season feel overwhelming and confusing, particularly for those with memory disorders. Those coping with dementia during the holidays may enjoy some situations more than others. By adjusting expectations and coming up with a plan for every situation, celebrating the holidays, for those with dementia, can still be enjoyable.

Preparing Your Loved One for the Holidays

Anxiety and agitated behaviors may arise in your loved one with dementia over the holidays. Changes in the environment, such as a houseguest, or changes in caregiving arrangements can often lead to agitation and be difficult to manage. To help minimize anxiety and agitation, caregivers can do several things to help prepare their loved ones for holiday celebrations. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, creating a calm environment, avoiding environmental triggers, and monitoring personal comfort are key factors in helping someone with dementia regulate their emotions and keep calm. Here are a few other tips to help make your holiday celebrations more dementia-friendly for your loved one while also minimizing anxiety and agitation: 

Prepare the Guest 

Coping with dementia during the holidays affects everyone, including your guests. If you’re expecting to have friends and family in your home or are going to be in a place where guests are meeting your loved one for the first time, it’s important to prepare them beforehand. Remind everyone that your loved one may not remember what is expected and acceptable. You may choose to prepare guests for unusual behaviors such as incontinence, wandering, sundowning, or eating food with fingers. Depending on your loved one’s situation, you may remind guests to introduce themselves. If it has been a while since their last visit, caregivers may choose to prepare guests with what to expect ahead of time, such as severe memory loss. 

Prepare the Person with Alzheimer’s 

It’s common for those living with dementia to become overwhelmed by their memory loss, especially when they can’t remember who people are or how they are related. To help avoid this, caregivers may start showing photos and arranging phone calls with visitors a week prior to their arrival. This will help your loved one become oriented with visitors and help manage expectations for both parties. In addition, caregivers should try and keep the person’s routine as close to normal as possible. This includes keeping the same sleeping and waking times and meal routines.  

 Adapt Holiday Activities

To help create dementia-friendly holidays, you may have to slightly adapt activities and traditions to meet their needs. Aim for small holiday gatherings that are quiet, relaxed, and void of disruptions, such as late nights or early mornings. If you’ll be attending a holiday gathering, plan to be brief or come up with a contingency plan if necessary.  

Designate a Quiet Room 

If you’re hosting guests in your home, choose one room in the house that is specifically designed for your loved one to rest if things become too hectic. You may even consider filling the room with items designed to relieve stress such as calming music, comfortable blankets, or familiar pictures.

Look for Signs of Burnout 

Before the holidays begin, it can be helpful to take time to note patterns in your loved one’s behavior. There may be behaviors that signal stress or fatigue. Creating a plan of action when these behaviors arise can help you and your loved one feel prepared for any situation. 

Helping Your Loved One Enjoy the Holidays 

While the holidays may feel different in the midst of a dementia diagnosis, it’s still possible for you and your loved one with Alzheimer’s to enjoy this special season. Coping with dementia during the holidays means preparing ahead of time, minimizing stressors, and having a routine can help reduce the risk of agitation and anxiety. In addition, you may consider implementing the following tips for a stress-free holiday:

  • Minimize your own stress. Those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can become more agitated when they sense stress in their loved ones and caretakers. It’s not possible to entirely eliminate stress, but you can take steps to minimize it. Try avoiding additional commitments, and don’t be afraid to ask for help with your senior- or holiday-related tasks.
  • Encourage participation. Have your loved one assist in the holiday preparations. Feeling included and useful is especially important for those with Alzheimer’s disease and can help them enjoy the festivities. Remember to assign tasks that align with their abilities. Some tasks might include peeling potatoes and carrots, rolling cookie dough, setting the table, or polishing silverware.
  • Limit holiday decor. Avoid decorating with flashing or twinkling lights, which can cause overstimulation. Too much clutter can also cause confusion and increase the risk of fall-related injuries.

Preparing for Holiday Travel 

For some individuals, traveling during the holidays may still be appropriate. However, preparation is key for a seamless trip. If you’re planning to travel this holiday season, remember to allow extra time for breaks. GPS trackers and medical alert bracelets may also be helpful for those who present a wander risk. Caregivers should also compile important documents they may need in the event of an emergency. These could include emergency contact information, medication lists, current food allergies, and physician information. If your travel time is more than four hours, be sure to have at least two caregivers present. If you’re unsure if your loved one is fit to travel, it’s best to consult their primary care physician or other healthcare providers.

Celebrating the Holidays at Maplewood Senior Living 

At our Maplewood Senior Living communities, the health and happiness of our residents will continue to be prioritized this holiday season. Our communities offer special events designed specifically for those with Alzheimer’s disease and provide gathering spaces for family and friends to make the holiday season feel special for everyone. If you would like to learn more about the best ways to cope with dementia during the holidays or to schedule a tour, please contact us here. 

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