Help your loved one with dementia enjoy the festive season

The festive season is fast approaching, and it’s important to consider how you can best include friends or loved ones with dementia in all the festivities.

Dementia often affects the way people process and respond to their environment.

Too much stimulation could be overwhelming and may cause confusion or agitation.

Here are some tips to create a safe environment for your loved one with dementia over the holidays.

PLAN AHEAD

Try to keep expectations realistic and in line with the current needs of your friend or loved one with dementia.

For example, people with dementia may experience changes in their appetite or food preferences, or difficulty chewing and swallowing. These changes may make some of the things on your festive menu unappetising or difficult to eat.

Things can change quickly for people with dementia and their abilities will likely vary from day to day.

Try to be flexible and have a backup plan in place.

If you’re planning a large event, consider having a smaller gathering with your loved one with dementia and just a few special people.

STICK TO THE FAMILIAR

The sudden appearance of lots of decorations may be overwhelming and trigger a negative sensory reaction or distress.

Ensure decorations are safe and familiar, and put them up slowly over a period of a few days.

Try to also stick to familiar traditions and routines.

Daily routines are an important way of supporting people with dementia.

Stick to routine eating, bathing, and rest times where possible throughout the holiday period.

For many people with dementia, long-term memories are less affected than more recent memories.

Familiar family traditions could therefore be a good way to reminisce.

HAVE A QUIET SPACE

Try to have a quiet place where the person living with dementia can go if things become overwhelming.

Designating a support person who can stay with them throughout the day could help to keep things calm.

Having some familiar objects or quiet music in the quiet space could be a good way to block out the noise of activities and reduce agitation.

MAKE SURE EVERYONE HAS A PART

Ensuring everyone has a role to play on a special day may mean modifying tasks to suit the abilities of the person with dementia.

For example, if you’re hosting an event at home, try to get your friend or relative with dementia involved in the kitchen by tossing the salad or helping to set the table.

It’s important to treat everyone with dignity.

Despite the best plans, sometimes it won’t be possible to share in festive celebrations with your loved one with dementia.

Be prepared for this separation to bring up your own feelings of grief or sadness.

Look after your own mental health as well.

Caring responsibilities still largely fall to women and it’s important to share the load.

If you’re caring for someone with dementia and need support, Dementia Australia or Carer Gateway offer useful resources.

– The Conversation

  • Nikki-Anne Wilson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Neuroscience Research Australia, University of New South Wales, Sydney.

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