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Open House for Family Caregivers
Feel the Love with Our Two Dedicated Levels of Memory Care
Saturday, February 24th, 2pm-4pm PST. Click HERE to RSVP!
Open Mobile Menu
positive approach to care tips

Holiday Caregiver Tips for Joyful Connection when Your Aging Loved One Has Dementia

The warmth of tradition stirs nostalgic joy during the holidays. But we understand tensions can also overwhelm when caring for a loved one with dementia. 

Connecting can become strained. That’s why The Kensington Sierra Madre aims to offer caregivers an uplifting workshop refocusing on their needs when demands are at an all-time high.

We hostd our interactive event, “Twelve Tips for Joyful Connection When Your Loved One Has Dementia” on Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m. 

Leandra Sims, Memory Care Manager, and Positive Approach to Care (PAC) coach shared 12 tips for reducing holiday stresses for caregivers. Attendees also received take-home guidance extending beyond the season.

Rooted in advocacy philosophy by Teepa Snow, PAC techniques center relationships through understanding. The Kensington Sierra Madre is proud to be the first and only PAC-designated community in the whole state of California.

By tuning into loved ones’ realities with compassion, the possibility of togetherness shines again. This year, allow us to share supportive guidance illuminated by the spirit of Our Promise.

Our promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own.

Understanding PAC methods for altered verbal communication

Positive Approach to Care (PAC) is a philosophy developed by dementia care specialist Teepa Snow centering on empathetic understanding of those experiencing cognitive decline. 

Rather than focusing on preserving intellect, PAC acknowledges each person’s current emotional realities and abilities.

As dementia progresses, verbal expression and comprehension decline, often leading to tense interactions. 

Instead of continuing strained conversational attempts, PAC offers alternative avenues for mutually uplifting connections.

Creating joyful bonds requires meeting a loved one where they are. With person-centered care listening to emotional needs, and creative sensory and tactile cues can transcend confusing words. 

The goal becomes nourishing spirits through presence over dialogue.

Encouraging connection through non-verbal communication

When cognitive challenges inhibit verbal communication, alternate sensory options can help with togetherness. Listening through eyes and other senses can reveal much—facial expressions conveying joy seeing grandkids, tension around large gatherings, or delight smelling once-favorite dishes. Noticing subtle reactions guides support. 

Pointing to meaningful items, playing songs that help with memories, displaying nostalgic photos, or demonstrating motions guides involvement, too. 

Caregivers can create lighthearted moments despite the challenges by creatively emphasizing sensory familiarity.

For example, let’s say you’re worrying about your grandmother preparing elaborate meals this holiday season as short-term memory lapses worsen. Ease anxieties by cooking beside her chatting lightly over hot cocoa, and visually guiding, measuring, and mixing special treats. 

Including her in the activities sparks helpfulness rather than dependence despite limited verbal capability. 

Create a supportive environment for various cognitive abilities

As processing language or following multiple steps proves difficult, shaping surroundings to match current cognition capabilities smooths unrest. 

  • Note behaviors indicating overstimulation.
  • Adjust lighting, noise levels, and seating arrangements accordingly. 
  • Guide transitional cues like music shifts or aroma signals when shifting settings.
  • Incorporate nostalgic items kindling significance such as classic holiday records, treasured ornaments, books, and cozy blankets. 
  • Maintain routines for the day like afternoon cocoa time. Such cues offer reassurance through any confusing times.
  • Choose a few meaningful, manageable activities that spark engagement over exhausting obligations. For example, hand-mix cookie dough rather than follow complex recipes if attention spans are short. 
  • Sing carols slowly together instead of the standard way if notes become disorienting. 

Simplifying traditions to their sensory essence retains holiday spirit with less stress.

Easy PAC techniques for everyday situations during the holidays

If challenging behaviors occur, such as irritation as large groups get too loud, caregivers can redirect focus to serene activities that re-engage without judgment. 

Look at a treasured photo book together or take a quiet walk rather than insist on persisting at the gathering. Prevent escalations with compassionate distraction.

Validate confusing feelings surging that may underlie reactions like anger—“I know this is overwhelming. Can I help make things more comfortable?” 

Use empathy rather than corrections to diffuse and understand emotions. Ask what would ease anxiety rather than dismissing it.

The PAC’s GEMS® model focuses on preserved abilities rather than losses to promote positive interactions. Gauge cognitive levels first, then interact meeting the person where they are. 

With creativity and sensitivity, connection sparks around the Christmas tree lighting up lasting identity and belonging.

Tips to apply PAC techniques during festive gatherings and activities

To make holiday parties more inclusive for everyone, try incorporating these techniques and ideas for your loved one with dementia: 

  • Play nostalgia-evoking song playlists 
  • Choose subtle decorations
  • Create soothing rooms if sensory input overwhelms
  • Incorporate fidget activities on tables to channel restless energy. This is beneficial if large groups tax short attention capacity.
  • Focus participatory crafts on the emotional experience rather than complex results, like using bare ornament bulbs and bows for effortless decoration while reminiscing over hot cider. 
  • Assign roles promoting a purpose such as pie crust crimper or table setter depending on preserved abilities. 
  • Try gift exchanges with “this reminds me of” storytelling replacing the rapid relay.
  • Connect loved ones’ past and present through photo slideshows interweaving meaningful snapshots over time with modern moments warmly lit together. 
  • Help complete treasured recipe steps with laughter versus frustration over declining skill.

Caregiver self-care and support through the holidays

Caregiving through celebrations strains even the most patient people. 

Breakthrough exhaustion with mindfulness breaks, stress-soothing hobbies that recharge, or comforting journaling processing tangled emotions before erupting. Say no to unnecessary obligations to prevent burning out.

At holiday events, set up respite rooms for hourly mental health check-ins or schedule trusted friends to relieve you during prime dinner hours. 

Seek counseling to navigate grief over shifting dynamics with your changing loved one. Manage energies, not just situations.

Plan restorative activities just for you like soaking in candle lit bubble baths, listening to tranquil music, and getting massages. 

However brief, prioritize moments signaling your needs matter too. Stay nourished to give nourishment. Never turn down support, and ask for caregiving help when you need it.

It takes a village: Let The Kensington Sierra Madre help

This holiday season, redirect celebrations to nourish through nostalgia and simplicity. 

Let senses guide connections when verbal communication may be a challenge. Go on a brisk pine-scent walk, hum familiar carols, and frost your favorite cookies together. 

Meet your loved one where they’re at cognitively and emotionally. 

We know that compassionate senior care takes a village. At The Kensington Sierra Madre, we aim to lift resident and caregiver spirits during the holiday. We have an in-house team of PAC-Certified Coaches to support your loved one’s journey.

While each family’s journey is unique, if you need extra support, you deserve it.

Reach out to The Kensington Sierra Madre to learn how we can help.