The holiday season is supposed to be a happy time when we get together with family and friends, but can end up being very stressful. From buying presents, cleaning the house, prepping meals and making sure everything is just right – often we don’t have time left to take a deep breath and enjoy it all. And if you have an elderly parent or loved one with dementia the holidays can be even more stressful.
You worry about what to say if they can’t remember other family members or become agitated for what seems like no reason. So how do you handle the holidays when your parent has dementia?
Talk To Family & Friends Ahead Of Time
Explain that Alzheimer’s and dementia is a disease that affects the brain. Let them know their loved one may not remember them, may become agitated, scared or accusatory without much warning. This can be especially scary for kids or family members who haven’t seen their loved one behave this way before.
Plan a family meeting or send a family email ahead of time discuss it. Try and prepare family and friends for what to expect and how to handle common issues like communication, suggested activities and safety issues including wandering.
Focus On Family Memories
Watching a familiar movie, looking through old photos or listening to their favorite songs are soothing and can awaken past memories. Even if a loved one can’t remember their adult child who is in the room, they may see old family photos from years past and provide vivid details about what was happening when the photo was taken, who was there or even the year.
Don’t be afraid to ask them questions, but at the same time don’t push them to remember or challenge their recollection of a person or an event.
Don’t Argue With Them Or Correct
Alzheimer’s can be particularly challenging for family members who don’t understand what is happening to their loved one. Seeing cognitive decline and memory loss can be difficult to accept and many people believe if they remind their loved one often enough eventually they will remember something or realize what is happening in the present.
The truth is Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys memory. We encourage families to talk to their loved ones about past memories but if they can’t remember, or recall something differently, don’t spend time arguing or telling them they are wrong. It can increase confusion and cause the person to become agitated. Even if they end up agreeing with you today it is no guarantee they will remember it tomorrow.
Ask Them To Participate
People with Alzheimer’s and dementia want to contribute to everyday life and be a valuable part of the family. If there are day-to-day activities they can still complete, and seem interested in doing, encourage them to pitch in.
Activities such as sweeping, wiping kitchen counters, or sorting holiday cards are a start. Focus more on spending time with them and don’t worry about the end result. It doesn’t really matter if they were able to get the counters clean. What you will remember later is the time you spent together.
Keep Them Safe
People suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia are prone to wandering, which can be extremely dangerous for the person and very worrisome for family and friends. There are many reasons someone may wander, including agitation and confusion – especially if they aren’t used to a room full of people during the holidays. Even in a house full of family and friends someone with dementia can wander off without someone noticing.
Have a plan to prevent Alzheimer’s wandering, make sure everyone in the house is aware of it and watching out for signs including someone who:
- Has To Be Somewhere – A person who insists it is time to go to work or pick up a child from school could be moments away from walking out the door
- Boredom and Restlessness – Someone who isn’t getting enough exercise or stimulation can begin wandering simply to find someone to talk to or something to do
- Needing To Find Something – When someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia starts looking for a specific object or person they may wander off to find it
- Basic Needs – Consider your loved one might be wandering simply because they want a drink of water at night or need to use the restroom
Have Fun And Enjoy The Time
While spending the holidays with someone suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia can be stressful and scary, it doesn’t mean you can’t laugh and enjoy time with your loved one and other family members.
Did grandpa just accuse you of stealing his favorite pillow – again? Assure him his favorite pillow is close by then ask him what he likes so much about it. Did grandma just call you by her great aunt’s name – again? Smile, then ask her about her great aunt and find out what she remembers so fondly about her.
Get to know your loved for who they are today without trying to focus on who they were in the past.
Learn More About Memory Care
The Memory Center provides exceptional care for those living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. We understand the challenging conditions of caring for someone with memory loss and an aging brain. Our communities are focused around providing activities promote the highest quality care for those in cognitive decline and offer every incentive to celebrate life and find purpose in each day.
Currently we offer residential memory care facilities in Virginia Beach and Midlothian (near Richmond) Virgina. Our communities are designed around our own Town Center concept that promotes independent, daily experiences. Filled with natural light, the Town Center experience includes iconic stimuli from the past with amenities such as a movie theater, general store, hair salon and more.