The holidays can be a time for family gathering, parties and celebrations. But they present an additional challenge when a loved one is living with dementia. Too much activity, a shift in daily schedule, and modified diets, all COULD contribute to anxiety, nervousness, and extreme behavior for someone living with dementia. But we certainly don’t want to exclude them.
Here are some tips to keep the holidays safe and enjoyable for everyone involved.
1) Reduce the amount of time the person living with dementia (PLWD) is out of their routine.
Perhaps your family prefers to celebrate all day and into the night. We must understand that keeping a PLWD out of their routine for too long could result in exhaustion, disorientation, and even mood swings. If they can’t handle the party atmosphere for the entire time, coordinate schedules so that they can be together with as many family and friends as possible for a shorter amount of time. The goal is to make them feel included and part of the celebration, without draining their energy too much.
2) Keep noise and disruption to a minimum.
Depending on your type of holiday celebrations, this may not be possible. As an alternative, have a room or other quiet place that the PLWD could rest in or visit quietly with just a few people at a time. The goal is to prevent being overwhelmed, not to limit the family visits.
3) For many, the holidays are all about food!
While the treats offered during the holidays are an indulgence, they can also present a challenge, especially if the PLWD has a restricted or monitored diet. If there is a pattern of certain foods causing behavioral changes or if there are other concerns, like diabetes etc, be sure to have alternatives for your loved one to indulge without causing complications. This may be accomplished through moderation, (i.e. one cookie can be fine, but offering a plateful could leave them feeling ill) or through alternative treat offerings (low sugar options for example). Be sure to check with their health care professional if you have concerns regarding this.
4) Inform your guests!
Many people simply are not informed of the challenges of living with someone with dementia. Again, the goal is inclusion, without disruption. Be sure to let guests unfamiliar with the disease know what some of the challenges are for your loved one. Bright lights, loud noises, crying babies, unfamiliar settings; all of these situations could upset a PLWD. Knowing their triggers can help ensure a smooth gathering.
5) Reduce travel time if possible or arrange a virtual meeting.
If travel is involved in your holiday plans, be sure to plan ahead to allow extra time. Frequent breaks or rests may be needed while traveling. Generally, if you remain calm, they will too, and the travel will be much easier.
And if your loved one lives in a care facility, an alternative to travel could be to arrange to have the party in a community room there to limit their exertion and time away. Or, arrange a virtual meeting using WhatsApp, FaceTime, Google video call or other such services. When arranging a virtual meeting using a smart phone, connect the phone to a larger monitor so that the person living with dementia can clearly see the other party on a larger screen.
Flexibility is key when caring for someone with dementia every day, but especially during the excitement and activity of the holiday season. Utilizing these tips will help ensure a fun celebration for everyone!