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elderly woman, mother, and young daughter making cookies together

How to Navigate the Holidays with Your Loved One with Dementia

For families whose relatives are experiencing memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s and dementia, celebrating the holidays can be more challenging and stressful.

This is why Kensington Senior Living partnered with The Institute of Aging to host “How to Navigate the Holidays with Your Loved One with Dementia.” This interactive virtual gathering took place on Dec. 14.

The discussion of our event and this article will be focused on finding meaningful ways to spend time together, adapting old holiday traditions, and purposeful gift ideas for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Planning activities and gatherings for relatives with dementia

Celebrating the holidays can be tough for people suffering from sensory difficulties, such as those with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Attending holiday parties can be dysregulating and overwhelming for people with memory loss, causing them to become disoriented, agitated, or confused.

We’ve gathered a few tips on how to create a sensory-friendly experience for your relatives with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Reduce visual distractions

If possible, try to use fewer decorations, especially blinking or twinkling string lights, which can disorient and distract your family member who has dementia.

Use tablecloth patterns that are less dazzling use more solid colors instead of using strong patterns that can disorient or overwhelm seniors with dementia.

If celebrating at night, try to reduce reflections on windows and mirrors by using blinds or other decorative coverings.

Reduce sound distractions

If you’re celebrating the holidays with a large family filled with children and other sudden or unexpected sounds, try to find a quiet place for your loved one to sit and relax.

Play your loved one’s favorite holiday music, but not too loudly, as it can interfere with conversations.

Remove clutter and tripping hazards

Decorating the house means there will probably be more things to accidentally trip over, such as string lights, boxes, rugs, and more.

Keep your walkways and pathways throughout your room free of tripping hazards to reduce fall risk.

Remove any choking hazards 

In the overwhelming party environment, it can be easy for relatives with dementia or Alzheimer’s to accidentally try to eat food decorations that appear real, causing choking hazards.

Try not to display any artificial foods that appear to be real, such as fake fruits, decorated ceramic cookies, and other realistic food decorations.

Adapting old holiday traditions to be dementia and Alzheimer’s-friendly

We can still make memories and spend meaningful time together with our relatives suffering from dementia. However, we will need to adapt holiday traditions to be more inclusive for those who are living with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other sensory-processing difficulties.

Consider a smaller get-together to avoid overstimulation

Because holiday parties can be chaotic and loud environments, it may not be possible to reduce all the distractions or control the whole environment to be dementia-friendly.

Depending on what stage of dementia or Alzheimer’s your loved one is in, it may make more sense to host a smaller holiday gathering to spend more one-on-one time with your loved one.

Schedule dementia-friendly activities ahead of time

To spend the best quality time with your loved one, try to pick the times of the day when they’re at their best physically and mentally, which will depend on their schedule.

Because holidays can be dysregulating, try to pick a time of the day that fits into your loved one’s daily schedule to reduce confusion or agitation.

People with dementia and Alzheimer’s tend to become restless and confused later in the day, known as “sundowning” so try to celebrate during the day if possible.

Offer snacks and treats that are dementia and Alzheimer’s-appropriate

Everyone should be able to indulge a bit during the holidays, but avoid giving your loved one with dementia too many sweets.

Because it’s common for people with dementia to develop a sweet tooth, try to avoid giving them too many sweets. Opt for giving them healthier snacks such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain snacks, or low-dairy snacks.

Take time for yourself as a caregiver

Taking care of a relative with memory loss can make holidays more stressful than usual. Don’t forget to take care of yourself this holiday season. 

Ask for help when you can from other family memories, and stay in contact with other caregivers, such as Kensington’s Konnect, an online gathering for caregivers. 

Thoughtful and appropriate gift ideas for relatives with memory loss

When you buy presents for people with dementia, you may feel more pressure to make sure the gift is appropriate for your loved one’s cognitive abilities, to avoid embarrassment or confusion.

Here are our recommendations for the best gifts you can give to relatives with memory loss this holiday season.

Early-stage dementia gifts

People in the early stages of dementia can benefit from stimulating mind games and other thoughtful presents such as:

  • Sudoku puzzles
  • Photo albums
  • Weighted blankets

In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may not have many noticeable symptoms, making early-stage dementia presents easier to pick out.

Middle-stage dementia gifts

People in the middle stages of dementia will appreciate more hand-made and cherished items over brain games, such as:

  • Handmade blankets
  • Comfy clothing and pajamas
  • Fuzzy blankets
  • Fidget objects

Late-stage dementia gifts

People in the late stages of dementia will appreciate gifts that can calm and soothe them, including:

  • Stuffed animals or dolls as a form of “pet therapy”
  • Christmas cards
  • Framed photo portraits

How The Kensington Sierra Madre devotes care to benefit seniors and caregivers

At The Kensington Sierra Madre, we pride ourselves on the ability to offer outstanding care to its residents dealing with memory loss, as well as their family members.

The Kensington was founded on the premise of building a senior living community that we’d want our own parents to live in.

Our Promise to caregivers and their families is “to love and care for your family as we do our own.”

If you’re the caregiver of a relative dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s, please check out Kensington Konnect, an information hub of resources for caregivers, as well as our blog page, which is regularly updated with educational articles on senior health.

Join The Kensington, your premier partner in caregiving

The Kensington Sierra Madre is an enhanced assisted living and memory care community located in Los Angeles County, California.

Our luxury community features the amenities to truly allow your loved one to age in place, including life enrichment classes, on-site rehabilitation services, all-day dining, and a loving and supportive staff of trained healthcare providers.

Do you have a loved one who’s dealing with memory loss issues caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?

Please contact us today to inquire about available rooms and get more information about our enhanced care community.

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