As families everywhere adjust their 2020 traditions, their loved ones with dementia may sense that their holiday celebrations aren’t ‘quite right’ but not understand why. As the past ten months have taught frustrated family caregivers, explanations of why they can’t maintain social traditions this year won’t work.
“For those who have always cherished holiday traditions and celebrations, it’s important not to let go of them entirely this year,” says Teleia Farrella new Memory Care community coming soon to West Melbourne, Florida. “Luckily, there are some simple ways to add holiday cheer and a sense of normalcy for people with dementia this season.”
In this post, we’ll offer four fun, easy ways to get – and keep – your loved one in the holiday spirit.
1. Ask Them to Make Decorations
Making decorations can be an effective way to bring your loved one into the spirit of the moment – or take them back to fond memories of holidays past.
- To make projects more meaningful, keep them simple and old-school. Really old-school. Making construction paper garland, for example, is both a familiar crafting project from your loved one’s youth and one that people with dementia and limited motor skills can create successfully. Precut the strips and opt for an easy-to-grip glue stick rather than tricky tape or a stapler that can be difficult for older hands to operate comfortably and safely.
- If your halls are already decked and your tree trimmed, make some room for your loved one’s garland or other dementia-friendly holiday crafts, and give them pride of place in the room your loved one spends the most time.
- If crafting is too difficult for your loved one or rummaging is more their thing, put together a box of (safe) misfit decorations that didn’t make the cut this year and give it to your loved one to root through. Offer them an easily recognizable symbol of the season – a snowman, reindeer, Santa, angel, dreidel, etc. – to hold or occupy their fidgeting hands.
- Make the feelings last. Don’t worry about what your brand-new calendar says. If Christmas decorations, music, or movies continue to bring your loved one joy in January, agree to leave their favorite decorations up a bit longer and watch It’s a Wonderful Life with them a few more times.
2. Bake Together
Big family feasts might be out this year, but the flavors, aromas, and bonding opportunities are still very much in.
- You don’t have to recreate a full traditional dinner to give your loved one a delectable taste of the holidays. Choose something that was always on their holiday menu – or heaped on their plate! Did they have a signature side dish or favorite dessert that you can make together?
- Keep instructions short and tasks in line with your loved one’s abilities and willingness to participate.
- Use this time to reminisce together about your favorite family recipes, traditions, and stories.
3. Stir the Senses
- Pipe in sounds and smells of the season: Play your loved one’s favorite Christmas movies or carols and dispense seasonal aromas such as sugar cookies, pumpkin pie, balsam fir, or make a special holiday blend.
- See the sights: If it’s safe for your loved one to venture out and they’re up for it, consider taking them for a short drive around the neighborhood to see the lights and decorated houses. Take along a thermos of candy cane hot cocoa to keep your loved one warm and infused with holiday spirit. As always, be mindful of your loved one’s sensitivities. If they frequently experience sundowning symptoms or become agitated by bright or blinking lights, this probably isn’t the activity for them.
4. Host a Festive Party – Virtually
Invite your loved one’s kids from one to ninety-two to wish them a happy holiday on Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or Facebook Messenger’s video app. Ask in advance that attendees wear festive holiday colors or simple accessories that create visual connections to the holidays.
Note: Just as in-person visits, crowded virtual gatherings can be overwhelming and exhausting for your loved one. Try scheduling each immediate family separately. This will help your loved one connect “who belongs to whom” and can keep conversation threads from veering off into too many directions. Our sister community in Coconut Creek, Florida, recently shared some other great tips to consider for successful virtual visits.
Before connecting your loved one to the chat:
- Make sure all parties have the appropriate app installed, open, and working on their devices.
- Prepare your friends and family for any significant changes in your loved one’s appearance, abilities, behaviors, or triggers. Suggest appropriate ways to best communicate with your loved one. Request they speak as they normally would (no baby talk) and remain mindful of their body language.
- Ask attendees to choose a bare wall for their backdrop. Patterns may be distracting, appear distorted, or confuse your loved one.
- Guests should also eliminate background clutter, movement of other people or pets passing behind them, noise, and anything else that could make it difficult for your loved one to see or hear visitors.
- The screen you set up for your loved one should be large enough to see people clearly. If others are using handheld devices, ask them to use hands-free tabletop phone holders to eliminate shaky visuals.
When your loved one joins the party:
- Be aware that seeing and hearing family members through a screen may be awkward or confusing for your loved one. Make them as comfortable as possible and, if necessary, explain what a video chat is and why you’d like them to participate.
- Have everyone introduce themselves one at a time. If someone new joins your chat or pops on your screen to say hi, be sure to introduce them to your loved one.
- Keep the focus on interacting with your loved one. Don’t talk around them or about them as though they are not there.
- Know when to sign off. One great thing about virtual visits: If your loved one becomes agitated or tired, they don’t have to wait for everyone to go home. When the visit is no longer enjoyable for your loved one, end the chat on a positive note with glad tidings and cheerful goodbyes – then help your loved one relax with another mug of that scrumptious candy cane hot cocoa!
Inspiring Memory Care Designed for You. Defined by You.
YourLife™ Senior Living was created to provide the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. We focus all our energy, attention, and resources on creating a community that caters to each resident’s personal needs, respects their choices and honors individuality while providing unmatched peace of mind and support for families.
Because Memory Care is our sole focus, we have the unique ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents. We understand that each resident is an individual that has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities, so we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence.
Our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist with everyday activities, gentle reminders, and redirection.
With YourStory, our signature programming, we create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational, and holistic health and wellness programming to outings and special events to personal care, assistance, and therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ Senior Living, our residents and families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more!
Call us at 321-206-4006 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.