Welcome to Alicia’s monthly advice column where she’ll provide tips on caring for a loved one with dementia. Alicia Seaver is the Director of Memory Care at Bridges® by EPOCH and is a certified memory impairment specialist. This month’s topic is caregiving through the holidays.
The holidays are a wonderful time of year for many of us, presenting the opportunity to take part in fun traditions and spend quality time with loved ones. That said, it can also be a more hectic time of year, and the hustle and bustle can be particularly challenging for individuals living with dementia and their caregivers. That said, taking the proper precautions when making your holiday plans can make the holiday season brighter for all.
Maintain a routine. The holiday season can make sticking to a routine challenging, especially if you’re traveling or attending a lot of holiday gatherings. Be mindful that a disruption to routine can be exhausting and disorienting for your loved one, which may exacerbate behavioral symptoms of dementia such as agitation. Encourage down time, try to stick to their routine as best you can and seek out a quiet space for them to retreat to during gatherings. Keep in mind that it’s especially important to maintain existing bedtime and exercise routines. Your loved one’s diet should also remain consistent — be sure to avoid rich holiday foods.
Prepare family members prior to your visit. Be aware that family members who have not had much contact with your loved one can be caught off guard by dementia symptoms they may be exhibiting. It is important to be open and intentional with your family ahead of time, so they can prepare for your loved one’s visit. Speak up and set expectations. Be transparent that your plans may have to change based on your loved one’s needs. Trust your gut and don’t hesitate to cancel plans if it seems like the best thing for your loved one.
Pick inclusive activities. Engaging your loved one in the activities at a holiday gathering will increase their chances of enjoying themselves. Arrange activities that all can partake in — baking, crafting, dancing, listening to music and decorating are just a few activities that you, your loved one and other guests can enjoy together. If you have less energy for organizing bigger activities, never underestimate the power of looking through old photos together. The holidays are a great time for reminiscence and nostalgia.
If you host an event, try to include your loved one in preparations whenever possible — assign simple tasks such as setting the table or hanging decorations.
Pack appropriately, be aware of your surroundings. Over-stimulation during the holiday season can lead to agitation and other behavioral symptoms. Remember that shorter daylight hours and wintry weather can contribute to irritability. If you plan on traveling, always travel with a bag of essentials for your loved one. Labeled medications, a list of emergency contacts, water, snacks and a change of clothing are a great start. Also, be sure to include items that will provide comfort, such as photos, books or a special pillow or blanket. If you plan to fly with your loved one, inform airport employees of their condition and any special needs ahead of time.
Care for yourself. As a caregiver, you are constantly attuned to your loved one’s needs, but it’s equally important to take care of yourself. Accept help when it is offered, and don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends and family when you need it. It’s important that you take time away from your loved one to recharge, take care of your own needs, and pursue your hobbies and interests. If you do not have the family support you need, consider an adult daycare or respite program for when you need time away. I also highly recommend attending a support group —connecting with others who are on a similar journey helps to remind you that you’re not alone.
Remember, while the holidays can be hectic, they can also be an incredibly joyful time of year. I wish you and your family happy and healthy holiday season.