While meant to be fun and festive, the holidays can be very stressful for some families. They get even more complicated for families where a beloved member suffers from dementia. If you’re part of one of these families, you may even wonder if the person you love who has dementia can even enjoy the holidays at all. The short answer is yes. Just because a person suffers from dementia, it doesn’t mean they can’t feel, experience joy, and enjoy quality time with loved ones.
People who suffer from even the most severe forms of dementia can still feel joy and happiness, but they can feel stress too. This is important to remember when setting your holiday plans. The reality is that most of the stress is more likely coming from you. Consider this: even if not quite perfect, there are ways you can make the holiday more enjoyable for your entire family in spite of dementia. For more information on how to enjoy the holidays with a person who has dementia, read on.
Know the facts.
If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between dementia vs. Alzheimer’s, the short answer is that dementia is the umbrella term to describe the decline of mental function, memory and communication abilities that can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease. People can suffer from dementia for a variety of reasons that don’t always mean Alzheimer’s or other illnesses.
Also, the levels of dementia a person might experience can vary. For some, dementia is persistent and impacts daily life functioning in severe ways. For others, there are days of lucidity where only slight impairments can be noticed, even by close family. Knowing all you can about your family member’s specific diagnoses will help in understanding how to make the holidays work for everyone.
One symptom of dementia is confusion. If your grandmother, for example, insists on flowers for Christmas, why not? The ability to laugh and roll with things as they come is one way to make the holidays easy and fun for the entire family. At the end of the day, the true goal should be about spending time with loved ones as you get together for the holidays and not in the semantics of how it’s done.
Go with the flow.
People with dementia can have good days and bad. There’s no way to know which kind of day your loved one will have. Prepare for this. Challenge yourself and your family to look at the holidays as one grand adventure. While traditions are nice, and you can make room for them, being open-minded enough to go with the flow will go a long way toward helping your loved one with dementia to enjoy the holidays too. If New Year’s Day is a bad one, maybe it doesn’t have to be about the big meal, and you can instead opt for take out if that’s what your loved one is in the mood for. You can always try again on another holiday and save the dishes for Easter Sunday.
Be in the moment.
Life doesn’t have to be perfect to matter or for memories to be made. Take lots of pictures, and find ways to savor the moment. Instead of sitting around watching television, find ways to engage your family and loved one in something more interactive this year. Maybe it’s baking together or decorating cookies. It could be a puzzle or even trimming a tree or praying together. The point is that you want to create memories with your family. Laughter, joy, and the overall mood are all things your loved one will pick up on too, even if they’re having a bad day for symptoms.
Instead of focusing on the negative, consider what your loved one can still do. Hold their hand, sit with them, be patient with them, give them a hug, and spend time with them. A person with dementia can always feel love. Happy holidays to you and your family.