How to Spend Quality Time With Loved Ones, Who Suffer From Dementia, Over the Holidays

Written by: Erin Stosich, OTR/L, CLT, LSVT BIG certified

               Holidays are a time when most people like to gather as a family.  That may look different to each family, but being together is what counts.  When someone in your family suffers from dementia or memory loss, it can cause some stress or anxiety when thinking about how to make it work.  Here are some helpful tips to help everyone get the quality time with all of their loved ones that they deserve. 

               When planning a gathering, be mindful of location and the number of people that will attend.  People who suffer from dementia often thrive on routine and can get overwhelmed in large crowds.  If possible, try to make the location somewhere that is somewhat familiar to the person.  Take into consideration that they may be accustomed to taking time to rest every day, so having a place available for that is also a good idea.  If there will be multiple families gathering together, you may want to think about utilizing name tags.  This would be especially helpful for grandkids/great grandkids who are growing and changing often. 

            It is always a good idea to have a plan, but the key to that plan is flexibility.  People with dementia can sometimes have their own idea of what should happen or what they want to do, so having ideas ready to go is great, but also be ready to improvise with an activity that they may suggest.  Some options to have available are pictures, music and movies.  Looking through old family photos can really spark conversation and memories for everyone.  Try to avoid asking specific questions such as “When was this?”, “Who are these people?”, or “Where is this?”.  Rather talk about the clothing or the background.  It would be a great idea to write on the back of the pictures with names of people or just general labels to also help provoke conversation.   Planning to incorporate music or a movie would also be something that someone with dementia can easily engage in.  Maybe there are traditional songs that you listen to as a family or a movie that is traditionally watched over the holidays.  These are things that everyone can enjoy and they also don’t require much conversation.  Therefore, a person with dementia doesn’t have to feel self-conscious about what they are saying or worry about keeping up with conversation.

            Another easy way to spend time with your loved one and keep them engaged is by letting them help with the preparations for the event.  Give them easy tasks in the kitchen.  If preparing a dish, have things premeasured and all set out.  Stirring is a great task as it stimulates range of motion and can even be therapeutic.  If allowing them to help with kitchen tasks, just always have direct supervision to ensure everyone’s safety.  Other preparation tasks that are great for them to participate in is table decorations or place settings.  Making flower arrangements, rolling silverware or folding napkins are things that can’t really be done wrong, so it allows everyone to be successful.

            Finally, here are some other general tips to enjoying your time with loved ones who suffer from dementia.  Be sensitive to conversation.  People who suffer from dementia or memory loss often have a difficult time following every detail of conversation.  Keep it light and engage with them.  It is okay to validate their statements as well, rather than always correcting them.  Go to that place with them, and hear what they have to say. 

            It is also important to ensure that they are getting plenty of food and staying hydrated.  Holidays are a busy time, so it is easy to let those things slip by.  Someone with dementia may not always verbalize or even realize they are hungry or thirsty, but it can cause them to become agitated.  Along with that, comes bathroom breaks.  It is important that you take time to help them find the restroom, especially in an unfamiliar place.  They, again, may not verbalize it, but it could lead to agitation or accidents if they don’t get proper breaks.  Placing a sign on the bathroom door to help direct them, is also something to consider. 

            Last, but not least, be mindful of your loved ones routine.  As stated previously, people with dementia often thrive on routine.  Holidays can get crazy and busy and it is understandable that the routine won’t be exact, but consideration is important.  Trying to get them home or at least in bed at a normal time is going to be best for their mental state.  Medications are also important, so sticking to their medication regimen is best for their mind and body. 

            Holidays are a special time of year.  Too often, the season comes and goes in the blink of an eye and we feel as though we missed it.  It is important to try and slow down, take time and enjoy the moments.  Even though it may not be the easiest, make it a priority to spend quality time with family and friends.  Happy Holidays everyone!!

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