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Managing Memory Loss During the Holidays

Senior man opening present with son.

The holiday season is a time to enjoy treasured traditions and holiday cheer. But for someone with memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, the hectic pace and unfamiliar activities can be overwhelming. Here are some tips for tailoring holiday festivities to the needs of a loved one struggling with loss of memory, so that they — and you — can enjoy the spirit of the season.

Create a Peaceful Atmosphere

People with memory loss may be easily agitated and confused by bustling environments full of noise and conversation. You can cultivate a holiday atmosphere that minimizes confusion and overstimulation by:

  • Simplifying holiday décor. Steer clear of decorations that can be startling or disorienting, such as blinking lights, animatronic or life-sized characters, and seasonal displays that alter the look of familiar rooms.
  • Taking safety precautions. Avoid ornaments or décor that resemble edible treats, such as artificial gumdrops or faux berries. Choose battery-operated candles instead of traditional burning candles.
  • Opting for small, quiet gatherings. Lively get-togethers with many conversations going on at once can be overstimulating. Gather with a small number of guests, instead, and make sure there’s a quiet corner for your loved one to retreat to if they feel overwhelmed. If you’re attending parties hosted by friends and family, be prepared to keep your visit short.
  • Choosing your moments. Plan activities for the best time of day for your loved one, when they typically experience the least confusion or agitation.
  • Following the usual schedule. Routine is comforting, so try to keep to your regular schedule for meals and bedtime.

Choose Activities Your Loved One Can Enjoy  

Not every holiday tradition will be appropriate for a person struggling with memory loss, but many activities can be adapted to suit your loved one’s abilities. The following activities can be a great way to slow down and enjoy the pleasures of holiday togetherness:  

  • Bake together. The aromas and tastes of holiday favorites can trigger memories, stories and conversation. Choose simple recipes and break tasks down into small steps — mixing, cutting out, or decorating.
  • Enjoy the sounds of the season. Music can soothe agitation and offer a means of connecting with others. Play holiday favorites and encourage your loved one to sing, clap, tap or dance along.
  • Put together a holiday-themed jigsaw puzzle. The sensory stimulation of a jigsaw puzzle can offer therapeutic benefits. Plus, puzzles are a quiet, fun activity to do together. Choose a puzzle that suits your loved one’s abilities — puzzles with large pieces that are easier to see, or puzzles with 100 pieces or fewer — to help prevent frustration.

Prepare Holiday Visitors

If family members or friends haven’t seen your loved one recently, consider reaching out to them before their visit to help set realistic expectations. In addition to updating them on any changes in your loved one’s behavior or appearance, consider sharing the following:  

  • Communication tips. Let your visitors know what topics your loved one responds well to. And give them a reminder that reassurance and redirection are more effective than criticism or correction.
  • Description of symptoms. Educate your guests about the symptoms your loved one is experiencing to help them understand that any lapses in memory or behavioral changes shouldn’t be taken personally.
  • Suggestions for adapting gift-giving. A large, boisterous gift exchange may not be comfortable for your loved one. Suggest instead that gifts be mailed or dropped off for your loved one to open in a quiet moment.
  • The plan of events. To make sure everyone knows what to expect, let visitors know what activities you have planned and any changes you’ve made in holiday traditions.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself, Too

With so much energy focused on making the holidays a pleasant experience for your loved one, it can be easy to forget about your own needs. But self-care is a vital part of maintaining your own health and avoiding caregiver burnout. To help make the holidays enjoyable for yourself, consider these suggestions:

  • Pare down your to-do list. Remember that you can’t do it all. Focus on the activities that you most enjoy and get help from family and friends whenever possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s okay if you can’t meet everyone’s expectations this holiday season. Let people know that your caregiving responsibilities may limit how much you can contribute to family celebrations.
  • Ask for “me time.” Recruit family or friends to stay with your loved one so you can have time to enjoy the season’s festivities without the responsibilities of caregiving.

Find Trusted Memory Care at Monticello West

At Monticello West, our memory care neighborhood provides specialized support for residents with memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. With our person-centered approach, we can help minimize frustration and create a sense of purpose and satisfaction through familiar activities and comforting routines. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of a community like Monticello West, contact us. We’re happy to answer any questions you have or to help you schedule a visit.