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Creating Meaningful Holidays for Dementia Patients

Holiday seasons are a time for family and friends to gather for celebrations, bond, reminisce and create new memories. For most people, meeting with loved ones during holidays is a long-established family tradition they all look forward to. However, for dementia patients and their caregivers, holidays can be overwhelming. Even when both have settled into an effective care regime, holiday festivities may mean disruption of familiar routine, triggering symptoms.

If you're a caregiver or have a family member with dementia, continue reading for tips on how you can overcome the apparent challenges and create meaningful holidays. 

Creating Joyful Holiday Memories in the Face of Memory Challenges

Whether your loved one has Alzheimer's, vascular, Lewy Body, or any other type of dementia, memory loss is one of their main challenges. They're likely to have trouble recognizing family members or remembering their names. Their conversation skills might also be significantly limited as they struggle to find words. Misplacing things and forgetting recent events are common dementia symptoms that might flare up during holiday family gatherings.

Usually, when this happens, they often become anxious or angry about their memory loss. If other family members do not understand, it can add more pressure on the patient, worsening their situation, e.g., they might become irritable or withdrawn. 

To overcome this potential challenge during the holidays, consider the following tips when caring for dementia patients:

Prepare the Guests

  • Alert guests in advance about the patient's memory impairment and other unusual behaviors associated with the condition
  • Request them to be kind and understanding to the person
  • Encourage them to focus conversations on the present as opposed to past incidences the patient might have a problem remembering 
  • Request the guests to introduce themselves by their names rather than testing the person's memory
  • Arrange for family and friends to visit with the dementia patient in smaller groups to avoid overwhelming them

Prepare the Dementia Patient

For some dementia patients, going to new environments during the holidays can be overwhelming. It might trigger behaviors such as anxiety, irritability, and aggression. Hosting may be more comfortable for them as they will be in a familiar environment as opposed to visiting. But whether you plan to visit or host, here are tips to prepare them:

  • Show them photos of the other event attendees to see whether they recognize them
  • Maintain their regular routine as closely as possible before and during the event and ensure they have adequate rest
  • Whenever you are away from home, have them put on a bracelet with contact information should you get separated

Other Important Preparations

  • Plan for activities to distract the person if they become overstimulated during the event
  • Arrange for a quiet space where the person can escape to recharge
  • Keep the environment controlled – avoid too much noise, control lighting (not too bright and not too dark), and loud conversations

Inclusive Celebrations: Tailoring the Holidays for Dementia Patients

In advanced stages, dementia patients may have mobility issues and be unable to participate in daily activities. However, whether they're inactive or active, consider tailoring the festivities for more inclusive celebrations. 

Here are ideas on how you can adjust the holiday traditions: 

  • Be flexible and adopt new traditions as appropriate
  • Involve the dementia patient in preparations and activities such as decorating or setting the table
  • Simplify the celebrations and ensure the space is calming
  • Host small gatherings

Discovering the Magic of Memory-Friendly Holiday Activities

Ask dementia patients about the activities they would want to do for the holidays. You can also suggest memory-friendly activities, such as:

  • Baking holiday cookies
  • Going for a walk around the neighborhood
  • Listening to holiday music
  • Watching classic holiday movies
  • Decorating the house

Explore Our Dementia Care Options

The holidays can be potentially daunting for dementia patients and their caregivers, but celebrating with memory impairment is still possible. With proper strategies, you can craft joyful holidays in the face of memory challenges, and make the celebrations inclusive. If you're a caregiver or have a loved one with dementia, we hope these tips have been insightful.

At Elite Home Health Care, we are committed to providing quality care for dementia patients within the comfort of their homes. Our caregivers are professionally trained to provide personalized care to ensure the patients lead quality lives. We invite you to explore our dementia care options and skilled home health aide services.

Written by: Leah Ganz
Director of Patient Services

Leah Ganz, RN, BSN is the Director of Patient Services at Elite Home Health Care. She has an extensive background in homecare and previously worked in various specialties including pediatrics, pain managemnet and internal medicine. She oversees allpatient services across Elite's departments.