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How to Engage Seniors with Dementia during the Holidays

By December 15, 2015Archives

When a family member suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, the holidays are unalterably changed. The patient may not be able to travel, eat solid foods, or recognize beloved family members. How does one engage a senior suffering from these diseases when they may not know it is the holidays, and they may not recognize the family members trying to celebrate with them?

The most important thing to remember is that deep in the psyche, even patients who are in the deepest stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s can feel love and affection. Build holiday celebrations on that awareness and focus on bringing joy to the patient, and teaching a new dimension of joy to the family. Here are some ideas that can help everyone celebrate, albeit in a new way.

To alleviate stress, focus on creating a new celebration rather than forcing your loved one to participate in traditional festivities. Create a personalized celebration with them before or after the home-based celebration. Take the celebration to the patient rather than taking the patient to the celebration.

Advice for before or after the family celebration / holiday:

  • Take foods to the patient. Pay attention to textures they can eat and swallow that include their favorite flavors.
  • Family members can visit and sing holiday songs- music is excellent therapy. Even non-verbal dementia and Alzheimer’s patients will still be able to sing along with old favorites.
  • Decorate the patient’s room and sing to them while doing so.
  • Visit with a holiday photo album in hand and share it with the patient.
  • Buy peppermint, gingerbread or other holiday scented body lotions and massage the patient’s hands while listening to holiday music.
  • Ask a local choir to visit the facility where the patient lives and sing holiday songs to the patients.
  • Elementary school students in the family can bring coloring books and crayons to the loved one, and encourage them to color with them. This employs gross motor functions for the patient.
  • High school and college students can bring music and maybe even fabric of different textures to share with the patient. Bring a bit of fake fur, corduroy, felt, etc and have the patient touch them while visiting with them. This stimulates the tactile sense for the patient.
  • The bottom line is to find creative ways to bring joy to the patient. Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are cruel conditions and there is no way to ignore that. However, they do teach family members to concentrate on only the moment at hand with the patient and to share intense love and joy with them.

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