Celebrating the holidays with someone who has dementia

by Paradise Living Center

holidaysCelebrating the holidays with a loved one who has dementia presents some challenges, especially if your family member resides in an assisted living home. It is natural to want to recreate those holiday memories you have shared together and get in touch with the feelings those shared experiences gave each of you. But how do you recreate something that dementia may have changed or faded for your loved one? This loss of shared history never hurts quite as much as it does during the holidays, when so many memories were made.

Talk to your loved one’s caregiver

Before you make too many plans or set up too many expectations, talk to the day to day caregiver of your relative. He or she will be able to give you the best guidance on what plans you should make. Kristie Chadwick, the director of Paradise Living Centers, has extensive experience working with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

“This is a really hard time of year for the family members of our residents. They remember the holidays being a certain way, they remember their mom or whomever being a certain way and they want to somehow return to that.”

Their reality must become your reality

Kristi explains that it is vital for you to accept and understand the reality of your loved one at this moment. Their perspective, she says, needs to become your reality.

Most people suffering from dementia lose their short-term memory first. It is only their long -term memories they can grab on to, so they will invariably stop recognizing spouses and grown children. However, they will remember going fishing when they were eight. This person, whom you remembered as a loving mother who loved walking through her neighborhood, may not remember the neighborhood or those long walks. Arranging to take mom on a tour of that neighborhood while you point out various sites to jar her memory, may be far from enjoyable to Mom. In fact, says Kristi, those suffering dementia find that constant pressure to remember very confusing and stressful.

Instead of a walk through the neighborhood, maybe Mom would enjoy a drive to look at Christmas lights. This is exactly the kind of thing you need to discuss with your loved one’s care giver. He or she can tell you what would feel good to your mom now. It’s up to you to accept that it may be quite different from what your mom would have liked a few years ago.

Meet them where they are now

Kristi suggests, “Join your loved one in their journey. Jump in and meet them where they are right now.”

For example, if your father, a former basketball coach, believes you are one of his former athletes, be one of his former athletes. Let him reminisce with you and laugh about Cinderella victories and rue the agony of defeats. Yes, it hurts that your father is not seeing his son. But take this time to get to know a different side of your dad. Do your best to know and interact with the person your dad is right now.

No amount of jarring or flash carding with family photos will bring back what dementia is taking away. Rather than continually setting up unreal expectations that are guaranteed to fail, but sure to upset your loved one, understand where he or she is now. Meet them there, take their hand and create a holiday that brings you together in a way that both of you can enjoy.

To speak with Kristi Chadwick about caring for someone with dementia and learning more about the services Paradise Living Centers provides, visit the website or call (480) 878-4112.