The holidays are family times full of memories and traditions for multiple generations. Patients with memory challenges are perfectly capable of enjoying holiday festivities and many of their fondest preserved memories are surrounding the holidays. A few suggestions to hopefully make these festivities fun for everyone:
1) Older relatives become anxious in the presence of commotion. This is enhanced when memory challenges are superimposed. Be mindful when planning activities that prolong exposure to loud and spontaneous noise or activity taking place in multiple locations. This combination will be upsetting to some patients with dementia. If possible, a seat positioned on the periphery with the feeling of being somewhat detached but able to view everything is ideal.
2) Fatigue is a major factor in patients becoming anxious or agitated in social situations. Be aware that long encounters or interactions lead to fatigue. This will manifest itself in anxiety, confusion or anger. Frequent breaks, naps or walks will enhance the whole experience for everyone.
3) Create a tag team. During the entire celebration, it is helpful to have one person who sits near the patient and acts as a guide to the festivities and has a calming effect. A “ low voice ”can be reassuring and descriptive of what is going on. This close- by person can change throughout the day and provide both patient and multiple caregivers with opportunities for intimacy. Calming activities could include looking through old picture albums, talking about holiday celebrations long ago, listening to soft music together.
4) A glass of wine or drink is perfectly acceptable but the amount of alcohol must be monitored. Memory impaired individuals do not remember how much they have had to drink and are especially sensitive to the effects of alcohol. A watered down drink may be the answer.
5) Expectations for the holidays are always high. Unfortunately, it is often at this time the family is aware of recent declines and it can bring sadness to an otherwise happy occasion. Be prepared for a possible heightened awareness of cognitive decline and try to focus on what is left and not what is lost.
At Memory Center Charlotte we are constantly in awe of the resilience and courage of our caregivers and their ability to give purpose and love in difficult circumstances. We wish you a calm and safe holiday season.