Nothing says holiday season like tried, true and sometimes required holiday traditions. As we get ready to decorate the Christmas tree, light the menorah and sample more of the neighbors homemade pie, we need to make sure that traditions are able to be enjoyed by everyone. If you have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it may be time to switch things up.
So how do we make traditions an enjoyable experience for everyone? Northbridge Vice President of Resident Engagement and Memory Care Services, Kelly McCarthy shares tips on making the holidays easy and enjoyable whether your loved one lives in a community, or at home.
What to do if taking Mom or Dad out for the holidays:
- If your loved one lives in a community setting, be sure to speak with community associates about holiday plans. Let them know that you are taking mom or dad out, what time you plan to pick them up and what time you plan to bring them back.
- Hold off on telling mom or dad that they are going out. While it is important to communicate this information to the community or other family members, telling your loved one may cause unnecessary anxiety. Someone living with memory impairment may struggle with the concept of time and be anxiously awaiting being picked up hours or even days before you arrive.
- Prepare the space: Wherever you are taking your loved one, make sure there is minimal clutter and all rooms are well lit to prevent tripping.
If you are going to visit Mom or Dad:
- Timing: Plan for the time that works best for your loved one, even if it may be inconvenient for you. If your loved one lives in a community, talk to the associates about what is going on that day and when a good time for visiting would be. If you are visiting your loved one at home, be aware of their normal routine and plan your visit around it.
- What to do during the visit:
- Reminisce – holidays are a great time to reminisce about old traditions and share what everyone remembers.
- Physical contact – hold hands and hug as your talking to one another.
- Songs – have traditional holiday music playing softly in the background to spark old holiday memories
- What NOT to do during a visit:
- Do NOT ask questions that set your loved one up for failure. Phrases like, “do you remember me?” should always be avoided.
- Do NOT repeat questions that you see your loved one is struggling to answer. If you notice they are struggling, move on to another topic you know they are comfortable talking about.
- Do NOT argue with or correct them- if mom or dad calls you by the name of another family member, they may temporarily be misremembering you, go along with it and don’t push back.
Who should be part of the visit:
- Less is more: Avoid overwhelming your loved by visiting in smaller groups over multiple weeks leading up to the holidays. Large groups and gatherings easily become overwhelming.
- Say hello: Be sure to introduce your loved one to everyone in the room to prevent any anxiety or confusion around not knowing or remembering someone.
- Come prepared: Make sure you prep with everyone who will be joining for the visit. Have topics to discuss, be aware of body language, and know what topics to avoid.
Holiday Traditions and when to make new ones
- Holiday Baking: Baking holiday cookies is a great tradition to carry on with your loved one. The smells and tastes are sure to bring back pleasant memories.
- Downsizing: If you start to notice that larger gatherings are making your loved one feel anxious or overwhelmed, consider scaling back a bit. Instead of the whole family coming over for one day, try smaller group visits throughout the month.
- Old Photos: Bring old traditions to life with photos. If it’s too difficult for your loved one to be around everyone all at once, use pictures to reminisce about holiday celebrations of the past.
What to remember:
When it comes to the holidays and someone living with memory impairment, it’s more about the journey than it is the destination. Bake the cookies and enjoy sampling the chocolate chips and smelling the vanilla as you talk about making the same cookies as a kid. Don’t worry about the fact that they came out a little burnt, its more about the memories shared then the cookies anyway. The best way to set yourself and your loved one up for a successful holiday is to do what is in the best interest of the person living with memory impairment, even if it means the holidays look a little different. People with Alzheimer’s and dementia thrive on routine, holiday visits and gatherings tend to throw the best laid routines out of whack.
Our holiday wish to you is even if celebrating with mom or dad looks a little different this year, you are able to find joy in reminiscing about old traditions while forming a few new ones.
Discover life at a Northbridge community
If you’re considering senior living for yourself or a family member, we hope you’ll visit one of our communities. You’ll find a maintenance-free, activity-filled and engaging lifestyle to help support your wellness goals.
You’ll also discover many benefits in a Northbridge Senior Living community, including our Signature Program S.T.A.R. Club (Sharp Thinking, Active Residents) – which offers our residents several activities to participate in with others, including:
- Daily exercise group
- Walking club
- Tai Chi & Yoga
- Nutritional classes
- Library and book club
- Museum outings
- Artists in residence program
- Multi-generational music
- Genealogy Generations
We’re here to answer any of your questions and invite you to download our complimentary guide Just the Facts: Your Guide to Memory Care. Please contact us if we can provide further information or if you would like to schedule a personalized tour.