4 Tips for Happy Holidays in Any Setting

Posted on: December 10, 2014 | 0 Comments |

During the holidays, most of us want to be as close to our families as possible. If your loved one with dementia resides in a nursing home or assisted living facility, it seems natural to bring them back home for your holiday celebrations.

However, this may not always go according to plan. I learned this the hard way.

That year, Mom had just settled into her new apartment in memory care. Mom had always loved Thanksgiving, so I thought she would enjoy a day of cooking and fun with the family.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Mom was disoriented, stressed, and overwhelmed. Everyone was happy to see her, but the excitement of it all was just too much. At her request, we returned to her apartment — leaving behind food in the oven and our surprised, disappointed family members.

It seemed like such a good idea to take Mom back home for Thanksgiving, so what went wrong?

Looking back on it now, I see a lot of things I could have done differently. Of course, it’s still possible to enjoy the holidays with a loved one suffering from dementia.

Here are a few things to keep in mind…

Beware of Overstimulation
Remember the last time you were in a room full of new people, trying to navigate an unfamiliar environment? Depending upon your loved one’s cognitive abilities, going home for the holidays might feel just as overwhelming. He or she may not remember familiar faces, names, or even the layout of their former home.

Also, a crowded house can be stressful for anyone, but especially someone suffering from dementia. In years past, my mother would have loved the commotion of having both sides of the family under the same roof, but that year, it was a different story. She wanted to go back to her apartment, where it was quiet and much more peaceful.

Changing Significance
Try to keep in mind that the holidays may now have a different meaning to your loved one. Someone who was heavily involved in your family’s holiday preparations in the past may not be enthusiastic at all about this anymore, either because of personality changes or because his or her concept of time may have altered so much that the idea of a holiday is too abstract.

A lot of things have changed for them, and so the idea of celebrating a holiday in the same way might not make sense. They may be aware that the holiday season is upon us, but depending upon what stage of dementia they are in, it can be tough to remember what the holidays used to entail for them.

Ways to Cope
If you feel that your loved one may not fare well at your usual holiday celebrations, why not bring the holiday to them? Instead of taking your loved one out of their current environment, it may be more beneficial to celebrate with them in the comfort of their current residence. That way, you can celebrate a holiday together without uprooting them.

Also, consider keeping your celebration small and short. Whether you’re bringing your loved one to your home or visiting them, an all-day celebration may not be the best idea. It could be physically and mentally draining, even if you’re all having a good time.

Consider bringing in just one favorite dish and enjoying it with your loved one and just a few other guests.
During this time, look for signs of stress in your loved one. He or she may not be verbally or emotionally capable of telling you that they’ve had enough. Do they seem withdrawn, agitated, confused? Keeping an eye out for signs of stress could be a good way to keep a celebration from turning stressful

And Of Course…
Don’t forget to care for yourself. The holidays are always difficult. During this time, many of us find comfort in spending time with family, but this is can be challenging when one of your loved ones has dementia.

It’s inevitable to be stressed and tired. Don’t blame yourself for occasionally losing patience or becoming frustrated.
Your loved one may still be with you physically, but depending upon his or her condition, many aspects of your relationship may have changed. In many ways, you are coping with the loss of a loved one, and that is never easy. Remember that you’re going through a partial grieving process.

The holidays can be especially challenging for those who love someone who suffers from dementia. At times, it may be an uphill battle to stay optimistic.

However, it’s certainly possible to spend quality time with your loved one and connect in a meaningful way during the holidays.

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Jamie's Journey

In 2007, Jamie Wilson (founder and CEO of Dementia Services Group) began the complicated process of helping her once-independent mother adjust to life with dementia.

Jamie's Journey is deeply personal, but also universal. We hope that her trials and triumphs will shed light on the emotional and logistical issues that come with caring for someone with dementia.

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