For those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the excitement of the holiday season might have the opposite effect. Baylor College of Medicine experts have a few tips to help make this season as joyful as possible for those with memory disorders and their families.
“Too much noise and activity along with a disruption of routine can be overwhelming for someone with dementia. It can cause them to withdraw, become angry or scared,” said Dr. Mary Kenan, a psychologist with Baylor’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center.
Maintaining a routine is important in reducing agitation and improving mood. Disruption can trigger behavioral symptoms, which also can make care giving more difficult.
Kenan offers some tips to help create a meaningful holiday for all:
- Focus on the present. Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders are progressive diseases that each year can bring new changes and challenges. Try not to compare past holidays to the current condition.
- Rather than test your loved one's memory by asking, “Do you remember who this is?” introduce each person by name. For example, “This is Jane, your niece.”
- Schedule times for family and friends to arrive or visit in small groups. If that isn’t an option, find a side room or area where guests can visit quietly with your loved one.
- Include your loved one in certain tasks for the day, such as setting the table or decorating, if you know they can handle the undertaking.
- Try to maintain routine as much as possible. If your loved one with a memory disorder customarily takes a walk after eating lunch or dinner, try to maintain this activity and go with him or her.
- Watch for signs of anxiety or distress and intervene immediately using techniques you know may calm him or her down. For some that means sitting quietly together, going for a walk or even taking a drive around the block.
- Develop new ways of marking the holiday season. For example, ask family and friends to come prepared to tell a favorite story from past holiday seasons involving the loved one with Alzheimer's. Reminiscing is an important therapeutic tool.
- Use the sights, sounds and smells of the holidays to stimulate your loved one's senses. Your loved one may be able to participate in the singing of well-learned holiday songs.
- Ask for help. Caregiver’s stress also can increase the stress of your loved one. Delegate holiday responsibilities to friends or family.
"Patients with Alzheimer's disease can still enjoy the holidays," Kenan said. "Be sensitive to your loved one's strengths and limitations, as well as your own as a caregiver, and celebrate accordingly."