Written by Jenny Smiechowski, staff writer for The Birches
Imagine walking into a crowded room. It’s loud. Music’s playing. Kids are running around you. Everyone’s talking. But you can’t seem to follow any conversations. You can’t remember anyone’s name. And when someone asks you a question, you can’t think of a response.
You feel anxiety building in your chest, and you just want to find a safe, quiet place to sit. But your surroundings are unfamiliar, and you’re not sure where to go.
That sounds stressful, right? Well, that’s how your loved one with dementia may feel during the holidays.
The holidays are packed with social events and family traditions that are supposed to be happy and fun. But for someone with dementia, these activities can easily become overwhelming.
Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to make the holidays less stressful for loved ones with dementia this year:
#1 Let your loved one choose his or her level of participation. Your loved one will enjoy different holiday activities depending on his or her stage of dementia and individual preferences. In the early stages of dementia, for example, some people feel uncomfortable in social situations because they’re self-conscious about the cognitive changes they’re experiencing. Others, want to participate in social events like they always did. The easiest way to find out what your loved one feels comfortable with is to ask. Even if they don’t want to participate in big family parties, they may want to help with holiday decorations, attend church services or celebrate the holidays in more subtle ways.
#2 Break activity into bite-size chunks. According to dementia expert and author Dan Kuhn, LCSW, social events and other activities tend to be more fun and less overwhelming for people with dementia when they’re done on a smaller scale. So, rather than having the entire family over at once to exchange gifts, Kuhn recommends you set up short visits with a few people at a time or arrange a series of one-one-visits for your loved one.
#3 Simplify gift-giving. Simplifying gift-giving for your loved one with dementia is a great way to make the holidays less stressful and more fun. That may mean your loved one doesn’t give holiday gifts anymore. But if he or she still wants to give gifts, Kuhn suggests helping him or her write a check for each family member. Everyone can take the check and shop for their own gift. Once they purchase something, they can surprise the person with dementia by revealing what they chose.
#4 Let go of the past. Holidays are all about tradition. But yearly traditions might not have the same meaning to your loved one with dementia anymore. Try to see the holidays through your loved one’s eyes rather than clinging to the past. That may mean adapting family traditions to meet your loved one where he or she is now or letting go of some family traditions completely.
“For many people, letting go is hard and sad,” said Kuhn. “But we have to think about how we can make this time of year meaningful for those with dementia rather than focusing on what we want or what we need. It requires a bit of emotional work on our part.”
Looking for more advice on how to make the holiday season as happy as possible for your loved one with dementia? Join us November 7 for “How to Best Spend the Holidays with a Person with Dementia” with Dan Kuhn. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, call 630-581-7350 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about this event and other events at The Birches, check out our event calendar.