How to make the holidays special for a loved one with memory loss


Across the country, people gather to share a meal and to create holiday memories that will last a lifetime. Those of us with family members who suffer from memory loss often agonize about how to include family members with dementia.

"The secret to successful holidays is to keep them simple,” says Jan Dougherty, RN, MS, FAAN, Family and Community Services Consultant with Banner Alzheimer's Institute. “Many family members feel elaborate preparations, large crowds and multiple generations make for great memories, however, the person with dementia will probably enjoy simpler dinners and gatherings.”

Here are some basic ingredients to create a more successful holiday celebration.

Before dinner:

  • Make sure the your loved one is well-rested. Fatigue can occur in 90 minutes or less, so a person may do better attending only the meal, rather than the whole day.
  • Create a place to rest, such as a guest room or another calming place she can use to leave the larger group.
  • If she has prepared the elaborate dinner in the past, have her help with minor preparations such as peeling, mixing or mashing.
  • Be aware people with dementia are highly susceptible to heightened stimuli, especially groups and noise.

During dinner:

  • If your loved one asks to leave early, take her home or to a place to rest. Do not delay her exit as it may cause confusion or agitation for up to 36 hours.
  • Avoid alcohol intake, especially if the person is on a mood-modifying medication. A toast is fine.
  • All people attending the gathering need to accept what the person with dementia says and perceives. Attempts to clarify “mistaken memories” will only serve to produce anxiety, worry or anger.

Wondering about appropriate gifts?

Holiday gift ideas for people with dementia include: prepared foods or food baskets, warm slippers, picture books or gift certificates for restaurants or for their care partners.
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