The holiday season provides an excellent opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. However, if you have a loved one or parent with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, this time of year may pose some challenges.
Fortunately, with some simple preparations and attention to detail, you can help them stay comfortable and have fun. Here are five tips for hosting a holiday gathering with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Create a Comfortable Environment
Loved ones with dementia tend to have a more difficult time with physical and social environments due to changes in cognitive capabilities. Things like loud music, flashing lights or crowded spaces can lead to high levels of stress and sensory overload. Here are a few ways to help them feel more comfortable in the space during the gathering:
- Reduce sensory experiences, especially light and noise
- Provide an opportunity to familiarize with the space before guests arrive
- Have a trusted friend or family member they can turn to if they’re feeling anxious
- Offer a safe space they can go to if they’re feeling overwhelmed
- Help them feel included and involved in activities
Curate the Guest List
As tempting as it is to throw a huge holiday bash, a massive guest list of strangers can make those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia especially uncomfortable. Whenever possible, keep the guest list small and familiar. This makes it more approachable for them to stay engaged and avoid being overwhelmed. Alternatively, consider having a more intimate, quiet gathering earlier in the evening, and a larger party later after your loved one has gone home to rest for the night.
Adapt Your Activities
Though your activities don’t have to exclusively cater to a loved one with dementia, make sure there are options they can enjoy with everyone. This could include decorating cookies, creating photo albums, making garlands or wreaths, and singing familiar holiday songs. This also provides the opportunity to create new traditions that can be enjoyed by the whole family for years to come.
Have Realistic Expectations and Plan Ahead
No holiday gathering goes off without a hitch. No matter how much you work to manage common dementia behaviors, you can’t account for everything. One of the best things you can do is have realistic expectations and a plan in place to help your loved ones who might be struggling. Things like having a driver available to take them home or a quiet space to relax goes a long way in showing you care.
Enjoy the Experience
As overwhelming as it may sometimes feel supporting a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, don’t lose sight of the good times, either. If possible, work with other family members and friends who can provide some relief throughout the event. Giving yourself permission to enjoy the experience helps prevent caregiver burnout and keeps your relationship strong.
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