Relatives visiting from afar. Friends dropping by to exchange presents over eggnog. A groaning table filled with delectable dishes.
This is the Hollywood version of the holidays. The songs tell us it’s “the most wonderful time of the year”. Yet these scenarios are often a far cry from what seniors experience, especially if they have memory loss.
For a senior with cognitive impairment — and for the caregiver, who is often a family member living with Mom or Dad or Grandma or Auntie, rather than just dropping by in late December to spread holiday cheer — the holidays can be extra challenging.
Help is at hand, and not just during the holiday season. The key is to know what resources are available — and for caregivers to reach out and request assistance.
The following seven suggestions can help family members and caregivers to feel more supported, especially during the holiday season:
- Turn “E”s into ease. Instead of the Big “E”s — expectation and emotional overwhelm — stay in the moment with loved ones. Holidays are notorious for bringing up old hurts, resentments, and regression to childhood behaviors, which only amplify stress, especially for those with memory loss. Both senior and caregiver can collaborate on a commitment to accept what is, and let go. It sounds simple, and is. And it works.
- Be authentic, not automatic. A corollary to the above is to switch autopilot to “off”. The holidays can be so hectic that cruise control becomes the default setting, which is counterproductive to your own happiness and well-being. Think and plan ahead, then be present with what is happening right now.
- Keep it small. Those holiday commercials and films tend to show large gatherings with relatives traveling great distances for emotional family reunions. This may make good television, but it’s hard on someone with dementia, whether the guests are coming to their home, or whether they’re visiting with a caregiver or other family member.
Do your best to keep the holiday party small in order to mitigate the chaos of a large gathering, which can create anxiety for someone with memory loss.
- Keep it calm. The often-frenetic pace of holiday preparations can be very challenging for those with dementia, who may become agitated and confused by this disruption in their routine. And the stress isn’t healthy for you, either.
Be willing to relinquish the superhero cape. For caregivers and family members accustomed to handling everything, the holiday season is a perfect time to enlist the aid of local family members and friends. They can help with meal preparation, errands and household chores so you’re not on overwhelm. This guide provides an excellent overview of how to manage the caregiving role effectively so that both elder and caregiver receive the support they need.
We’re all affected by one another’s emotional state — particularly seniors who have early-stage dementia. The more you can uplift your own state of mind during this season (meditation? yoga? walks in the park? playing with your kids or your dog?), the more peace and joy you’ll be able to bring into the life of a senior with memory impairment this holiday season. Don’t underestimate the power of pets. At Kensington Park, Carson is everyone’s best friend, and woofs that he’s “had the good fortune to be around seniors since I was 10 weeks old.” What a lucky dog!
- Seek “tech support”. Speaking of pets: if you don’t have a live dog or cat in residence, there’s still a lot of joy for seniors with dementia who have the benefit of virtual pet companions. Coupled with sensors such as those found in wearable technology, there’s a wealth of digital assistance available to support a caregiver and provide respite.
- Reach out and touch someone. The old telephone company slogan had it right: a simple hug can go a long way towards restoring mood. Many seniors are touch-deprived. Stroking your loved one’s hand as you talk with them, a comforting touch on the shoulder, or a full body hug (if appropriate), can help both elder and caregiver recharge.
Watching funny movies together, singing, or spending time in nature (even if that’s just sitting on the back porch for ten minutes) are some other excellent ways to dispel senior doldrums — and support the caregiver as well.
- Celebrate wherever you are. If your loved one is currently living at a memory care community such as Kensington Park, set aside a specific time to be with him or her. You can decorate their room ahead of time with holiday memorabilia from years past, or new decorations that you feel will appeal to them.
A brief visit at the time of day your loved one is most alert, a card or simple gift, and perhaps singing a few holiday songs your loved one recalls from decades ago (even if they no longer remember the words) can be enough for your loved one to feel content and not overwhelmed.
Music often triggers memories, emotions, and responses that can transport a person living with Alzheimer’s to a more comfortable and familiar place. You can put together a holiday playlist from their youth — it may even motivate your loved one to move around, and dance a bit if they’re able.
Celebrating Your Loved One Every Day
At Kensington Park, we treat every day as a holiday by providing the highest quality service, food, care, attention, and love to each of our residents.
The daughter of one memory care resident shared:
“Kensington Park has not only had a positive impact on my mother’s life, but on mine as well. From the moment we arrived, my mother was made to feel welcomed and safe as she was introduced to a new, friendly living environment.
Her daily life has greatly improved, as the level of care she is now receiving at Kensington Park is superb.
I no longer worry about my mother socially or medically. She is successfully encouraged to participate in appropriate activities…and she is thriving. And I get to sleep at night.”