Holidays bring families together to share and observe traditions that have long been a part of their history. But for a relative with memory loss, the holidays can be challenging.
These ten suggestions can help you plan holiday celebrations that include your loved one with memory loss:
- Recognize that holidays may not be the same as they have been in the past. Common feelings of loss, sadness, and anger at the disease may be heightened. Talk with other family members who may be experiencing some of these same feelings.
- Give yourself permission to do only what you can manage. Ask your family and friends for their ideas on how to make it an enjoyable and manageable holiday.
- Try altering traditions, not eliminating them. Most people with Alzheimer’s disease, or other types of memory disorders, can enjoy the spirit of the holidays, especially if this time of year was important to them in the past. Holiday baking, holiday cards, sing-alongs, gift wrapping, being with grandchildren, etc. can be adapted to your relative’s abilities and schedule.
- Consider celebrating with your relative before or after the holiday. Celebrating a holiday a few days before or after the actual holiday may be more manageable and less stressful for everyone. A holiday is still a holiday wherever and whenever you celebrate it.
- Plan smaller gatherings. Smaller groups of people can help the person with memory loss process what is being said and be a part of the conversation.
- Maintain your relative’s routine as much as you can to avoid increased confusion. Try to schedule holiday activities around your relative’s best time of day or at meal times.
- Be alert to signs of fatigue and increased confusion. Some people in the early stages of memory loss may excuse themselves and retreat to a quiet place such as their bedroom when they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated. If your relative is in the later stages, watch for signs that she may need a break: changes in facial expressions, tone of voice, or behavior.
- Help prepare visitors. People who have not seen your relative in a while will appreciate knowing what to expect and do while being with your relative. Say something like, “I thought it might be helpful for you to know how mom is doing before you arrive. Mom is having more problems remembering and recognizing people. Although she may not recognize you, I am confident she will appreciate your company, and so will I. Please do not think it is strange when I introduce you. Sometimes this helps mom be more relaxed.”
- Think through where your relative is most comfortable celebrating the holiday. Many families find that taking the holiday celebration to their relative is better than taking their relative to a holiday celebration.
- Keep it simple. Keep in mind it is not how much you do, but the enjoyment you and your relative receive from doing things and being together, even if they are different from past holidays.