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Making the Holidays Happy When Your Loved One Has Dementia

Making the Holidays Happy When Your Loved One Has Dementia
How do you make sure that the holidays carry more joy and less stress for you and your loved one with dementia?

Geriatric psychiatrist Mary Blazek, M.D., has tips, including:

Be flexible. "Take advantage of familiar rituals to rekindle fond memories," Blazek writes in an AgingCare.com article, "but at the same time be willing to adapt to the functional level of the person with dementia."

One holiday activity you can enjoy together is singing carols. Because speech and singing are controlled by different parts of the brain, many people who can no longer carry on conversations can still sing—even when other verbal abilities are reduced. Singing along with favorite Christmas songs can evoke happy memories for you both, while giving your loved one a sense of accomplishment and you a sense of satisfaction in your loved one's remaining abilities.

With baking, Blazek notes, "the process and the interaction is more important that the product." Help your loved one contribute by mixing premeasured dry ingredients or creaming eggs with butter and sugar. You can also help your loved one knead dough or decorate cookies.

When it comes to giving your loved one gifts, nurse practitioner Laura Struble recommends presents that are both caring and functional, such as: 
  • An outdoor bird feeder that your loved one can observe through a window.
  • A blown up picture of your family to hang on the wall with everybody's name.
  • A white board or a large calendar to write your loved one's daily schedule on.
  • A decorative box that your loved one can store valuables and cherished items in.

Your loved one will appreciate something that centers on their lifelong or current interests, as well as their current abilities.

Additionally, "The best gift is the gift of your time," writes Kim Warchol, OTR/L, president and founder of Dementia Care Specialists. "Spending a couple hours going for a walk in a favorite location, playing a simple game . . . working in the garden together, looking through scrapbooks or photos, laughing, and ending the day with a big hug is the best gift of all."

And if your loved one lives in care, be sure to take advantage of the festivities that the facility has planned. It can be heartening to take part in activities with other families struggling with similar challenges, and to strengthen relationships and rapport with the staff who, like you, care for your loved one.

Read more from Blazek in The Holidays Can Be Happy for Families With Dementia and more from Kim in Gift Ideas for Persons With Dementia.
 
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