The holiday season can be a time of joy, cheer and love. It can also be a period of concern, anxiety and confusion—all of which can be quickly exacerbated for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.
“The holiday season can be both joyful and stressful for all of us, especially individuals living with a dementia-related illness,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, director of educational and social services with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “Being proactive, adaptable and inclusive of the person’s wishes and abilities are the best ways to help them have a happy and joyful holiday season.”
As you work to make last-minute purchases, plan your holiday gatherings and check off your final to-do list, the foundation recommends four tips to help families and caregivers create a “dementia-friendly” environment that allows an older adult with dementia to more fully enjoy the season.
1. Go easy on the decorating
From your porch to the centerpiece, holiday decor truly sets the stage for the most festive gatherings. However, all the blinking lights, hanging garland and twinkling tchotchkes can easily overstimulate someone with dementia. So, do your best to restrain yourself where you can, and limit your decorations to just those favorite or treasured items.
2. Keep traditions alive (or create new ones)
Whether it’s watching a favorite holiday movie, singing Christmas carols or digging out old photos from past celebrations, building on old traditions can make a person with dementia feel connected. Of course, you may need to adapt when necessary, the foundation writes:
“Start new ones that center on activities and events the person enjoys and can do, such as touring neighborhood holiday lights, and do it together. Take a strengths-based and person-centered approach and incorporate what the person can do and what they choose to do now, rather than dwelling on what they used to do. Focus on those things that bring joy and let go of activities that seem too stressful.”
3. Make your gathering space safe and calm
Holiday get-togethers can be chaotic and crowded, so be mindful of physical dangers, like fragile decorations, tripping hazards (like extension cords or rugs), unstable Christmas trees, etc.
“As well as a physically safe environment, create a space where your loved one can sit in comfort and where guests can visit in small groups or one-to-one,” the group writes. “As much as possible, maintain the person’s normal routine when scheduling visits.”
4. Involve your older adult in the party prep
Don’t overlook your loved one’s ability to help—or the importance of keeping them engaged and involved. Ask them what traditions they want to continue this year, the types of cookies they want to bake, or engage them in the gift-wrapping process. The activities can help them feel needed and involved, and can serve as a special bonding experience with you both.
AFA also offers a helpline available seven days a week to provide additional resources and information about navigating the holiday season in a dementia-friendly way. Contact them with any of your caregiving questions by phone at 866-232-8484 or by text at 646-586-5283.