Spending holidays with those with dementia can be joyous as long as you minimize anxiety and keep them busy
Holidays come with their own joys and challenges for all of us. For people with dementia, the challenges can be great but there are ways to minimize the anxiety that can come with memory loss.
- Minimize chaos. You may love a house full of family and friends with children of all ages running around, bustle in the kitchen and the television on full blast for college football but someone with dementia does not. The noise and movement can cause severe anxiety for dementia sufferers. Either relegate the kids and the football lovers to the basement or a bedroom or designate a quiet space for your loved one to retreat to so they can decompress. Don’t wait until you see your loved one overly anxious, move them at the first signs of anxiety.
- Limit Choices. I always say never go into an ice cream shop with twenty choices and ask someone with dementia which flavor they would like. Depending on the severity of their dementia, either give them two choices of pie they would like or say, “I got you a slice pecan pie that I know you really will enjoy.”
- Recall old memories. People with dementia can tell you about a Christmas when they were eight years old but cannot remember this year’s Christmas dinner on December 26th. Talk about old holiday memories or bring out photo albums for the to look at and talk about. Memories are soothing and calming.
- Music is a powerful drug. Our ability to enjoy music is one of the last skills to leave when dementia strikes. Playing holiday music or even music from when they were young calms them and makes them happy. Remember not to blast the music but rather put it at a comfortable volume.
- Involve them in activities they can do and enjoy. Make your relative feel useful and needed but don’t worry if you have to do that activity again or help them with it. Ask them to set the table, fold napkins or stir a pot (watch them around a stove). If the forks and spoons are upside down or on the wrong side either laugh about it and leave it alone or change it when the person is not looking.
- Be aware of your own stress level and try to reduce it. Have other people take care of some of the cooking so you can look after your family member or vise versa. Even a six year old can look through a photo album with grandma while you cook.
A little planning and attention can make the holidays happy for everyone.