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Managing Memory Loss During the Holidays

Senior man opening present with son.

As the holidays roll around once more, you might feel a pleasant anticipation. It’s a time to enjoy beloved traditions and add fresh touches of festive cheer to your décor. But for someone with memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, the holiday hubbub can be disorienting and overwhelming. If you have a loved one who’s struggling with loss of memory, here are some tips that can help you both find joy in this year’s holiday festivities:

Create a Safe and Calm Environment

Dazzling lights and boisterous get-togethers may suggest holiday cheer to you, but for someone with memory loss such an atmosphere can cause agitation and anxiety. Opt for a more tranquil holiday ambience instead. Here’s how:

  • Tone down your decorations. Avoid the disorienting effect of blinking lights or extravagant displays that alter familiar rooms.
  • Take safety precautions. Use battery-operated candles to avoid the dangers of an open flame. And steer clear of decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats, such as artificial fruits or fake gumdrops.
  • Follow your normal schedule. A familiar routine can be comforting, so keep to the usual schedule for meals and bedtime as much as you can.
  • Create a quiet nook. If you’re entertaining, make sure there’s an out-of-the-way corner where your loved one can spend time alone, or visit one-on-one with friends or family.
  • Think small. Cozy, quiet and relaxed celebrations will be more comfortable and will keep your loved one from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Pick your moments. Schedule activities or gatherings so they take place at the best time of day for your loved one.

Choose Activities Your Loved One Can Enjoy

Memory loss may necessitate that your loved one play a different role in the season’s festivities than in years past, but there are ways you can help them — and the rest of the family — make the most of this opportunity for togetherness.

  • Include them in holiday tasks. Decorating cookies or making holiday cards together are festive seasonal activities that may also offer beneficial cognitive, physical and emotional stimulation. These activities will be even more fun if you focus on the joy in the process rather than the end result.
  • Celebrate with song. Music can have emotional and behavioral benefits for people with dementia. Play favorite holiday tunes and encourage your loved one to clap or sing along.
  • Take a trip down memory lane. You’ve probably snapped a lifetime’s worth of holiday photos over the years. Gather these mementos into an album that your loved one can flip through to foster a sense of connection and promote communication.

Help Holiday Visitors Prepare

If you’ll be gathering with family members or friends who haven’t seen your loved one for a while, reach out to them ahead of time to let them know what to expect. In addition to preparing them for any changes in your loved one’s behavior or appearance, consider sharing the following:

  • Communication tips. Let visitors know that, when talking to someone with memory loss, it’s best to avoid correcting, criticizing or interrupting them. Instead, listen patiently and offer reassurance or distraction when necessary. You might also suggest topics of conversation that your loved one typically responds well to.
  • An explanation of symptoms. Remind friends and family not to take personally any lapses in behavior, memory or judgment. These aren’t intentional; rather, they are symptoms of memory loss.
  • How to adapt gift-giving. Opening gifts in a large group can be disorienting. Ask friends and family to mail gifts or deliver them unobtrusively, so your loved one can open them in a calm moment.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

It’s easy to forget your own needs when you’re focused on helping your loved one enjoy the holidays, but self-care is vital for your own well-being. Here are some suggestions to ensure the holidays are enjoyable for you, too:

  • Reach out for help. Ask friends and family to help out with holiday tasks like shopping for gifts, mailing packages or addressing cards.
  • Be realistic. You can’t do it all. Instead, focus on the activities and traditions that are the most meaningful to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. Be honest with family and friends if your caregiving duties make it difficult for you to participate in some celebrations.
  • Take time for yourself. Arrange for family members or friends to stay with your loved one so you can enjoy a break from your responsibilities. 

Learn More About Memory Care Options

Autumn Leaves is a senior living community in Dallas offering independent living, assisted living, rehabilitation and skilled nursing. Our emphasis on compassionate care and successful aging makes us a trusted resource. If you have questions about managing your loved one’s memory loss, or about life here at Autumn Leaves, contact us. We’re more than happy to answer your questions.

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