Tips for navigating the holidays when your loved one has dementia

A Grandpa and grandson holding Christmas Gifts

The holiday season is upon us. For many people it is an exciting time of year, filled with parties, travel and family traditions. For a caregiver of a loved one with dementia, the holiday season can sometimes create feelings of anxiousness and unease if they are unsure how to navigate the challenges of caregiving combined with the stress of the holidays.

While being a caregiver is certainly never easy, there are some tips and tricks that can reduce your feelings of worry and help your loved one enjoy the holiday season.

Develop Stress Coping Strategies:

Remember that you need to take care of yourself in order to be the best caregiver you can be. Part of that is not being in denial of the situation at hand, and ensuring guests joining you for the holidays know what to expect and how to react to certain situations. Try to ask for support from others if you need it. Remember that not everyone will be pleased, and people may become emotional. The more you prepare yourself, the easier it will be. One simple way to prepare is by making name tags for those who will be at the celebration, so that your loved one with dementia can more easily recall their names.

Preserve Holiday Traditions:

Many families have holiday traditions. This can be a great way to engage your loved one with dementia with familiar sights and sounds. These traditions could include cooking together, driving around to see holiday lights, singing holiday songs and more. Keep in mind, however, that your loved one may not be able to take part in all of your holiday traditions. It is okay to only partake in some traditions if you need to adjust for your loved one’s needs.

Keep Safety in Mind:

People with dementia tend to have problems with sensory input and judgement. Remember increased activity may agitate them and make them want to leave. It is always a good idea to make sure they are wearing identifiable clothing, and a Medic Alert Safe Return bracelet can make a great early present. If your loved one is in middle-late stages, keep poisonous plants such as Poinsettias out of display, and always remember the toilet-paper roll test if you are unsure about the size of your decorations: if something can fit inside a roll of toilet paper, it is a choking hazard. When it comes to decorations, the simpler the better. Flashing lights, changed furniture, shiny objects and similar things could overwhelm or confuse your loved one. Keep in mind tripping and slipping hazards as well, including frozen driveways, electrical cords or decorations on the ground.

Gifting:

For a person with dementia, good gift ideas can include comfortable and easy-to-remove clothes, videos of family members, photo albums, magazine subscriptions, night lights, a memory box or a scrapbook. If your loved one is in long-term care, greeting cards, a phone call, artwork from a grandchild or a lunch outing (if possible) could be options. If you are gifting to a caregiver, running errands for them, visiting a loved one so they can take a break and prepared meals are thoughtful and useful gifts.

Prepare for Travel:

There are a few things to consider if you are travelling with a loved one with dementia this holiday season. Always be ready to leave early if need be, and have a discussion with whomever you are staying with about expectations before you travel. The same is true if you are staying at a hotel or a bed and breakfast. Check with the manager to make sure it is the right place for your loved one and you. The key is making sure your loved one is comfortable, and this comes from being prepared for various situations before they may arise. If you are flying, the TSA and airline may be able to assist you and your loved one if you let them know the situation, for more information see the TSA website. It is good to pack an extra bag of clothing and food, even if your trip is scheduled to be short. Keep things leisurely as you would at home; travel can be tiring. It may be a more enjoyable experience for the caregiver if you bring a friend or relative with you during travel.

 

We don’t have to give up our holiday traditions because of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. However, we need to take into account our loved one’s current abilities and may need to make adjustments. Live in the joy of the moment. You and your loved one can find joy even with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Many times that joy is just being with you.

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