As we begin the fall season, we also begin the time when preparations begin for the upcoming holiday season. You can already see signs in the stores, in the community and even in your mailbox! It is never too early to be prepared for the excitement, activity — and even feelings of stress or apprehension — that can arise at this time of year, particularly for caregivers and families of someone with dementia.
“For most families, holidays are filled with opportunities for togetherness, sharing, laughter and memories. But the holidays can also be filled with stress, disappointment and sadness” (www.alz.org). Maintaining family traditions around the holiday season can be difficult with loved ones living in long-term care and/or with a diagnosis of dementia. While you attempt to maintain as many traditions as you can, you may be disappointed if you are not prepared to also build flexibility into your holiday planning.
Here are some tips for caregivers on how to keep the holidays as fun, stress-free and as memorable as possible:
- Make celebrations simple; it’s your presence that counts
- Consider building on past traditions and memories in smaller ways, wherever possible. For example, if you usually do a large gift-giving exchange at once, break it down by exchanging gifts more frequently and at different times
- Take into account what your person with dementia can and cannot manage
- Enjoy a favourite book or piece of holiday music, and read or sing together
- Watch your favourite holiday movies together
- Plan shorter but more frequent visits and limit the number of visitors
- Consider celebrating over lunch or brunch, rather than an evening meal; this change helps to navigate the evening confusion or sundowning that can affect some people with dementia
In addition to the suggestions above, here are some tips for family members of a loved one living in long-term care:
- Check the home’s activities calendar ahead of time; if there is a party or activity planned, consider attending to show support for your loved one
- Ask the staff if they have any suggestions on holiday celebrating at the home, such as enjoying a holiday meal with your loved one
- Arrange for other family and friends to visit if you are unable to do so
The most important thing to remember is that celebrating the holiday season is an opportunity to share time with people you love. Try to make these celebrations easy on yourself so that you can concentrate on enjoying your time together! Lower your expectations and be ready to “go with the flow” if things don’t work out exactly as planned. It is possible that, even with the twists and turns of the holiday celebration experience, you may learn some new traditions and activities that you may wish to incorporate into in your future celebrations.