As wonderful as it can be having family together for holidays, it can be overwhelming for a person who is living with dementia. Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, some of you may have experienced this with a loved one with dementia. With Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s right around the corner, this is a good time to review pointers so the event is enjoyable for everyone.
“This has been our most delightful visit with (my mother)
in years – not because she changed, but because we did.”
– Family member working with Steven Sabat, PhD
This touching quote sums up the benefit of being prepared. Luckily, successfully preparing for a holiday with a loved one living with dementia is easy. Here are 4 tips to help you make the holidays bright for you and a loved one living with dementia.
- If you have not already done so, learn about the physiological symptoms of dementia so you have a working understanding about the condition. It is important to know how to communicate with someone who is living with dementia and when uncommon behaviors occur, what they may mean for the person.
- Discuss with other family members in advance of the holiday how you can all make the gathering enjoyable for your loved one with dementia. Work out a game plan together. Knowing, for example, that lots of activity and noise can quickly over stimulate and overwhelm an individual with dementia, discuss how the family can handle this. Identify a quiet area the person can go to and enjoy one-on-one or small group time together.
- Spend time in advance of the holiday thinking about the type of things that are special and meaningful to the person. Seeing pictures of an enjoyable family vacation and a couple of antidotes about it is fun for everyone. Was the person a craftsman? Showing carvings, paintings, and knitted objects they made can be heartwarming and trigger interesting stories. Perhaps the person was an avid cook, just talking about treasured meals or pies, for instance, can be fun for all. A trip down memory lane can be fun and informational for the younger generation too, as a way of learning about family lore and about the person who is their grandparent or great, grandparent.
- During the holiday gently keep an eye on the person to see if they are showing signs of becoming overwhelmed with the activity and noise. If so, you are prepared and can put the family’s game plan for this in action.
If you do not have a good source of general information about dementia, FIT Kits has created one in time for this holiday season. “You Can Help Someone Living Fully with Dementia: A Guide for Family & Friends” is chock full of valuable information. Developed by FIT’s co-founders, two gerontologists with 40+ years of dementia expertise, the 44-page guidebook contains a treasury of helpful information including more tips for family gatherings and two pages of useful dementia resources.
Having a loved one who is living with dementia can tap into our full range of emotions. We can feel sad, frustrated, patient, kind, angry, and overwhelmed all within one day! Dementia is a challenging condition. Understanding what is happening physiologically, which impacts upon their emotional state, will help prepare and empower you to connect more deeply with them – a wonderful experience for you both.
[Sabat, S. (2011). Flourishing of the self while caring for a person with dementia: A case study of education, counseling, and psychosocial support via email. Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice, 10(1):81-97]
FIT Kits are engagement kits that help family and care partners improve the quality of life of people living with dementia. For more information please go to their website www.fitkits.org.
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