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Six Tips for Creating a Memorable Holiday for Loved Ones with Dementia

Gurwin Family of Healthcare Services


The holidays are a time of celebration for many, but when a loved one is struggling with dementia, memories of times gone by can make gatherings bittersweet. Adjusting expectations and embracing new traditions can help family members and friends acclimate to the new norm and will go a long way in making the holidays meaningful.

Following are six tips to help create a memorable experience for your family:

1. Meet your loved one where they are on the spectrum of the disease. Dementia is characterized by a gradual worsening of symptoms such as memory loss, impaired thinking and personality changes. Knowing where your loved one is on the dementia spectrum can help to keep expectations realistic and minimize frustration.

2. Include your loved one in activities that they are still able to do, such as decorating or baking treats, or even simply setting the table. Keeping projects simple keeps them from being overwhelmed, and helps them feel part of the festivities.

3. Decrease stress by avoiding sensory overload. Be mindful of your holiday décor. Tone down the blinking light decorations, or those that may cause confusion or safety hazards.

4. Be mindful of your loved one’s schedule and any behavioral triggers. For many in the advanced stages of cognitive decline, “sundowning” in the afternoons creates a time of agitation. Consider a midday gathering rather than a late night celebration to minimize angst.

5. Familiarize guests with the situation and educate them to be patient, not to interrupt or correct, and to distract and redirect if the going gets rough. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with issues that might arise will make yourself and your guests feel more comfortable.

6. Adapt gift giving. Choose items that provide comfort or ease agitation, like a large, easy-to-read clock, featuring the time and date to help reduce confusion, maintain orientation and provide your loved one with structure and focus; an iPod loaded with favorite tunes to unlock pleasant memories; or, a “Fidget Quilt” adorned with assorted shapes, textures and moveable parts to help soothe restless hands and anxious minds. For clothing, choose comfortable, warm and easily washable clothes with Velcro fasteners.

With a little planning and an accepting attitude, you can create a memorable holiday this year. Best wishes from the Gurwin Family of Healthcare Services!

For information about the Gurwin Family of Healthcare Services, including the Memory Care Unit, visit www.gurwin.org.