As the holiday season approaches, thoughts often turn to social gatherings, parties, and other traditions which families hold dear.  Though the media bombards us with the ideal holiday vision, it can also be a time of stress.

A reflection on holiday traditions over the years will likely reveal the need to modify celebrations over time as families change in composition, geography and ability; accommodating the needs of someone with memory impairment is no different.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers suggestions on maintaining and modifying holiday celebrations to involve the person with dementia in a way that preserves joy, happiness, and connection, and decreases stress and anxiety.  The National Institute on Aging offers several suggestions, as does the Mayo Clinic.

In general, traditions should be maintained as long as they remain a safe source of joy, happiness and connection.  At earlier stages of the disease, the person with dementia can be consulted and engaged in making plans, choosing the events they would like to engage in, and which may feel overwhelming.  In mid- and late-stage, family must step in and manage and modify the celebrations to accommodate the effects of dementia.

Some of the more common modification suggestions are to:

  1. change the time of day of a celebration to during the day rather than in the late afternoon or evening to avoid the “sundowning” effect that can cause agitation and anxiety in the person with dementia
  2. limit the amount of time spent at the celebration
  3. scale down the size of the gathering from a large group, which can be noisy and confusing, to a smaller more intimate group
  4. designate someone other than the party host to accompany the person with dementia and be sure their needs are met
  5. provide ways for family members and friends to interact with the person with dementia such as photo books, topics for conversation, and small projects
  6. engage the person with dementia in preparation with small, successful projects.

Travel will also likely need to be modified; the mode and length of transportation should meet the needs of the person with dementia.

If your loved one is a resident in a care community and is not able to leave for family celebrations, the community will often have parties and events planned which family can attend. Small personal gatherings can also take place, with the assistance of the community in providing space and activity if needed.

Knowing the strengths and limitations of your loved one with dementia is an important part of this process, as is communicating those strengths and challenges to family and other people who may interact with your loved one infrequently, or only during the holidays.  Modifying tried and true traditions to meet the needs and capabilities of your loved one will ensure continued joy and connection through the holiday season and beyond!

If you are interested in learning more about care management services, please contact LifeCare Advocates at 617-928-0200.