Dementia and the Holidays: How to Include Your Loved One

Dementia and the holidays is hard to navigateThanksgiving is almost here, which means there are family dinners, holiday parties and lots of events coming up. But how to deal with a loved one who has dementia and the holidays? You want to include them and make them feel loved – but you also have to consider your own needs, and those of your immediate families.

Here are some tips and ideas to help you get through the season.

Make sure they’re safe.

Even when your loved one seems okay, they still need to be watched out for. Set up a rotation so that there’s always someone “on-duty.” When it comes to dementia, the rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected – especially if your loved one is in an unfamiliar location. This applies across the board, but if your loved one is still in the early stages try not to be too conspicuous about it.

Preparation is key.

Talk to your relative a few days before Thanksgiving dinner (or any other event). Go through the evening’s plans with them. Remind them of similar events in the past and show them pictures. If your loved one lives in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, let them know what to expect as far as transportation and timing go.

Keep your voice calm.

Dinners and parties tend to be very busy. If you need to speak with your loved one and they’re not getting it, do not yell. It will only confuse them and make them feel pressured. It’s not that they can’t hear you; it’s that the atmosphere is too hectic for them to process what you’re saying. Try to move to a quiet corner or another room. If that’s not feasible, just drop it.

Help your loved one participate.

If it’s appropriate, do what you can to let your loved one feel part of the action. Was cooking and baking one of their passions? Ask them to help out in the kitchen with whatever tasks they can do. Did they have a flair for beautiful tablescapes? Include them in setup. With love and advance planning, almost anything can be fine-tuned to their needs.

The holidays are a time for sharing. Let them.

One way dementia and the holidays can crash is when everyone starts to reminisce and your loved one tells a story that’s either a) totally confused as to the details or b) a complete figment of their imagination. Let them. The details don’t matter; your loved one’s feelings do. Just react with love and consideration and let your loved one feel good about the story they’ve shared.

Make sure your loved one eats.

Holiday dinners and events are full of food. Sometimes, too much choice is not a good thing and your loved one will be overwhelmed. Stick with them to make sure they eat – and that they make appropriate food choices. If the drive from their residence is a long one, speak to the staff ahead of time and ask them to give your loved one a snack. It might sound like a small detail, but it will go a long way to keeping your loved one from getting hungry – and impatient.

Most of all, show your loved one in any way you can how happy you are that they’re there to celebrate and be part of the family.