Critter Corner: Having a Dementia-Friendly Holiday

Dear Magic,

You look so cute in your Christmas tree headband that I thought I would ask you this question. My mom is coming for Christmas and will be at my home for several days. I haven’t seen her for a while, and my brother, who is her caregiver, told me that she is a lot worse than she was when we last saw one another. Do you have any tips for making the holidays joyful and merry for someone who has dementia?

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Chris Miswither

Dear Chris,
Celebrating Christmas with family and friends can be one of life’s greatest joys. For a person living with dementia, though, it can be an overwhelming experience – sometimes resulting in a challenging experience for the whole family.
Elder Care in Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Rockville, and Washington, DC
Here are some tips to help your family make the best of the holidays for your mother, and everyone else:

  1. Keep it simple:
    Conversations can be challenging for someone living with dementia. To help them out, use short and simple sentences, avoid complicated words, and try not to repeat things multiple times. It also helps to slow down when you speak and to wait patiently for the person to respond – it may take them a while to gather their thoughts.
  2. Look at photographs together and sing songs:
    Keep old photographs or home videos on hand to broaden the conversation. And if holding conversation is challenging, then make the most of the musical aspect of Christmas – singing and listening together. You don’t need to have great musical ability. Simply playing a Christmas CD or a song on the piano can have direct benefits for someone living with dementia.
  3. Plan ahead and be prepared:
    Visiting family and friends for celebrations can take place in a variety of locations often not familiar to the person with dementia. Besides being unfamiliar, family gatherings can be tiring and overwhelming. Have a rest-place in mind. This could be a bedroom that is away from noise and crowds, but close to a well-lit bathroom, where someone living with dementia can take a break from the festivities if they need to, or you can retreat to if you are the one who needs a break!
  4. Include familiar moments at mealtime – use social cues:
    Familiar traditions can help your loved one navigate Christmas meals more easily. Simple pre-meal traditions such as saying grace, making a toast, or wishing everyone Merry Christmas before eating can provide a social cue that food is coming, and that it is time to eat.
  5. Be thoughtful with your menu:
    Food is a feature at Christmas time and the prevalence of a thoughtful menu including snacks and finger food can greatly benefit the person with dementia. Place lots of finger food throughout the living area, so your loved one can eat nourishing food while walking around and engaging with others – without having to worry about handling cutlery.
    Depending on the progression of the person’s dementia, they may not recognize generic dining table items, such as cutlery. Putting the knife and fork in the hands of someone living with dementia may prompt the memory of cutlery – having a tactile cue will help trigger what to do with the utensils.
  6. Don’t forget about the caregiver:
    Caregivers of people living with dementia work tirelessly to fulfill their valuable role. They deserve a chance to put their feet up at Christmas! Christmas is a great opportunity to offer caregivers, such as your brother, support. Provide him with some respite by offering to sit with your grandmother during mealtime, or to spend time with her during other parts of the day.
    Alzheimer’s Planning in Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Rockville, and Washington, DC
    Don’t forget to make an appointment at The Farr Law Firm for after the holidays to discuss Medicaid Asset Protection in Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Rockville, and Washington, DC, and prepare for long-term care.
    Happy holidays from me and the rest of the Critter Corner staff!
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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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