How to Handle the Holidays When Your Loved One Has Memory Loss
You’re not alone, celebrating the holidays when your loved one has a form of memory loss can nevertheless be a challenge.
The scope of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is staggering: 5.8 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s, and this figure is projected to reach 14 million people by 2050. Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops the disease — and the vast majority are women.
So while you know you’re not alone, celebrating the holidays when your loved one has dementia can nevertheless be a challenge. Here are some ways to have the day go more smoothly for everyone:
- Adjust your expectations. A lot of what creates holiday stress is the level of expectations: around dinners, gifts, whom to invite, etc. With caregiving, this stress can be multiplied many times over. So choose to scale down the Big E. Begin by informing family, friends, and others who’ll be part of your holiday that circumstances have changed. You’re now a care provider for someone with memory loss, and the gathering is going to be somewhat different than in years past.
- Make sure guests “get it”. Someone with memory impairment can appear to be the same as before — until they start insisting they need to go pick up a child from camp (who is currently 40 years old). Educating your guests about dementia is paramount. Be sure everyone who’ll be at your house knows to watch for these signs of potential wandering:
- “I need to leave now. Bobby is waiting. “A person who insists they have to go to work or pick up a child from school could be about to walk out the door.
- Boredom. Your loved one might need more stimulation or exercise, and may attempt to leave the house to find it.
- Looking for something. When someone with memory loss begins searching for a specific object, they may wander away in order to find it.
- Need the bathroom or a drink of water. Your loved one may just need to relieve themselves, and not be able to locate the bathroom.
- Accept what they say as their reality. Arguing, correcting, or waiting for someone with memory loss to “remember” something can be an exercise in frustration for both parties. Reminding someone with dementia about what transpired isn’t going to jog their memory. Dementia is progressive, so simply accept what they say as their truth, and steer the conversation in another direction.
- Pare it down, request help. Think beyond what you’ve always done. Instead of a lavish dinner celebration, perhaps a midday potluck will be easier to manage this year. Or a brunch for a half dozen of those closest to you and your loved one, rather than a table for twenty. Potlucks enable others to contribute, building a more collaborative feeling. And holding the party earlier in the day will be beneficial for the person with cognitive impairment, since sundowning can cause confusion and agitation.
- Maintain your kitchen tradition. The holidays are all about tradition, and this is crucial when you have a loved one with memory loss. If you typically cook a turkey with all the trimmings, don’t decide to go vegetarian this year (although you could ask a guest to prepare and bring a vegetarian dish.) Familiar smells and flavors will be calming and pleasant for your loved one.
- Involve your loved one. He or she is likely to have many happy memories of holidays past. Build on these memories and traditions as much as possible. Encourage them to assist with preparations, such as wrapping packages, helping to set the table, or sharing stories from bygone gatherings. You might even sing together as you cook.
Once the guests arrive, check-in with your loved one who has memory loss often, by asking, “How are you doing? Do you need a break?” If your loved one appears stressed or withdrawn, bring them into a quiet room and sit with them until they feel calm. The party will carry on just fine if you’re not there for a bit.
- Affection speaks louder than words. Many seniors are touch-deprived, and for those with memory impairment, this sense is extra important. Encourage guests who know your loved one well to stroking your loved one’s hand as they talk with them, or touch them lightly on the shoulder. If it’s appropriate and wanted by the person with memory loss, a full body hug can help your elder tremendously.
- Celebrate where you are. Does your loved one live at Kensington Place now? Set aside time to come visit during the holiday season. As a dedicated memory care community, we love and care for your family as we do our own. We understand the challenges and concerns that come with Alzheimer’s and memory loss, and treat our residents with the utmost respect and dignity. We’re especially sensitive to how residents may react during the holidays.
Happier Holidays at Kensington Place Redwood City
It’s our joy to bring joy to your loved one this holiday season and every day. And our residents’ family members appreciate the knowledgeable loving care their dear ones receive here as much as the residents do. Here’s what one daughter shared:
“I just wanted to tell you how overjoyed I am that my dad is doing so well at Kensington Place. I would have never believed he would be going on outings and singing Christmas carols even a week ago. He is very happy and so am I.
The whole staff is wonderful and warm, and are really doing so much to make my dad’s days happy and fun. There are really no words to thank all of you for the joy and dignity you bring to those who could be easily forgotten.”
Redwood City is an ideal location to age in place: a beautiful location with one of the best climates in the country: 255 sunny days a year, in the heart of both Silicon Valley innovation and extensive senior services, in senior-friendly and aware San Mateo County.
Come visit us soon, and see why Kensington Place may be the perfect next step for your loved one now.