As we move into the holiday season, Ron and I think often of our parents who went through their last holidays with dementia: my mom Frances and his father Frank. We wanted to share the season with them in ways that felt safe, comfortable, and honoring so we gradually developed these tips. Recently, we shared the tips via email and had such a great response we also want to share them with you.
Several people wrote, “These ideas are good for anyone, not just those with memory loss.”
What great wisdom–to treat each person with the tenderness and consideration that we often reserve for someone going through a physical or emotional illness.
We’d like to share our tips and we’d like to learn from you: what other suggestions do you have for helping people feel connected at gatherings?
Eight Steps to Help People Living with Dementia Feel at Ease during Holiday Gatherings
- When you’re in a group, help the person living with dementia feel safe and comfortable by having a trusted friend or family member stay beside him or her, explaining the proceedings and fielding questions from others, as needed.
- Encourage people to say their name and maintain eye contact when conversing with the person who is living with dementia.
- Make sure the person can come and go from the group as needed. Create a quiet space where he or she can rest — or appoint a caring person to drive your loved one home when he tires of the festivities.
- Have something special for them to look at, like a family photo album or a favorite magazine.
- Choose background music that is familiar to them, music of their era played in a style they resonate with.
- Prepare a few of their favorite foods.
- When talking to them, don’t correct or contradict or try to pull them into the current reality. Simply listen carefully and let them talk.
- Appreciate them for who they are right now.
Here’s to a holiday season filled with grace, gratitude and generosity.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
Tryn Rose Seley is a gentle and creative force in engaging people who are living with dementia. I met her when I was searching for experts for the book and have truly enjoyed her wisdom and compassion. You’ll enjoy her ideas for having dementia friendly holidays.
Handling the Holidays with Grace, Compassion, and Fun!
Guest Post from Tryn Rose Seley
Be gentle with yourself and your expectations around holidays, which can be challenging for anyone, particularly those living with dementia. Plan with care, enjoy your family and friends, and adjust the schedule to suit a person’s energy.
Party Hearty, and Early
Have a party early in the day, when energy is best.
People living with dementia, like many of us, need to conserve energy. Never mind the midnight traditions; create a dementia friendly holiday celebrating by gathering at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. You will all enjoy the event and get home at a reasonable hour.
Film the Fun
A person with dementia often thrives with short, simple visits. Create a quiet room for one to one visits, and film the rest of the festivities to re-play for days, months, and years to come. The happy, boisterous fun can happen in another part of the house. If you run a camera in both rooms, you have captured the joy of the party, and can selectively play back the event in smaller bursts to enjoy the fun at any time of the year. When you all need a lift, play this footage.
Write Down Your Memories
Have a journal so family and friends can write memories of this gathering, or ones from the past, to read aloud any time you need a good story. Holiday visitors may come once a year, but you can extend their presence by asking them to write thoughts, affirmations, and stories from childhood, college, or any part of life. Writing down these stories brings the past to the present, where it can be re-lived, now and in the future.
When it comes to holidays this year, consider this: notice, adjust, and explore the possibilities of truly creating a dementia friendly holiday celebration and orchestrating your gatherings in a different way. Don’t give them up; change them up. #
For more inspiring ideas, read Tryn’s book, “15 Minutes of Fame/Empowering Caregivers of Those with Alzheimer’s”
Connect with Tryn through:
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.