When your loved one has memory loss, the challenges that come with celebrating the holidays can increase exponentially.
Holidays can be stressful: planning for a large number of guests (or planning to travel a long distance to be a guest), shopping and preparing vast quantities of food, searching both online and in stores for those perfect gifts for those you love, and trying to stay healthy and relaxed in the winter weather and crowds.
Here are seven tips for making the holidays with a loved one who has memory loss more peaceful and enjoyable for all:
- Invite the purrrfect guest. If you have a family pet, this might be the ideal companion to keep your loved one with cognitive impairment grounded and calm in the midst of holiday preparations. Numerous studies show that having a pet helps:
- Decrease stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Ease pain
- Lower cholesterol
- Enhance social interaction
- Improve disposition and mood
- Improve immunity
- Soothe sundowning
- Increase motivation
In fact, assisted living and memory care communities nationwide recognize that pet therapy enables seniors to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Over the last decade, the number of assisted living communities that welcome pets has expanded along with the aging population.
Here at The Kensington White Plains, Curry the Cat is an intuitive, soothing, and sometimes mischievous resident who comforts anyone who pays attention to her. We also offer robopets that have become a favorite among our residents. Bonus: they don’t need to be fed, groomed or cleaned up after — and they decrease anxiety and increase interaction in those with memory loss.
- Let visitors know what to expect. Family members, friends and others who will gather with you at holiday time need to be aware that their loved one has changed since they last saw him or her. Explain the basics behind memory loss, and encourage your guests to treat the person experiencing memory decline with patience and respect.
- Prepare familiar foods. While you may love the idea of experimenting with new recipes, the holiday meal is not the best time to do so. Sticking with the tried-and-true will be comforting to your senior loved one, for whom the pleasing aromas of traditional holiday fare are likely to bring back happy memories.
- Be inclusive. Help your loved one feel part of the holiday preparations by:
- Asking for their help with easy activities, such as setting the table or decorating cookies once they’re baked
- Encouraging reminiscing
- Including them in conversations
- Offering a gentle touch or reassuring word
- Eat earlier. You may have always hosted a family dinner late in the afternoon, but this is not the best time of day for someone with memory loss, who may become agitated or confused as daylight recedes. Instead, consider holding a smaller meal earlier in the day, such as a brunch or lunch. You can still prepare many of your hallmark holiday dishes, and the entire event will be less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.
- Keep your sense of humor. Mistakes happen, and a family get together can bring up old issues. Don’t take it to heart if someone drops food on the floor or gets testy around Uncle Bill. Give yourself permission to laugh it off and remain calm and supportive of your clan. Caregiving means dealing with some sort of challenge on a daily basis. So say “no” when you need to, and perhaps designate a “quiet room” or space in your house where your loved one with memory loss — or anyone who needs a break from the group and festivities — can retreat to when necessary.
- Shift your perspective. In a fascinating article about living in Norway, where the sun doesn’t rise all winter long, the author describes how local residents have redefined this “Polar Night” from a negative to a positive: it’s not something they simply endure, but actually enjoy. Although it’s unlikely your senior loved one with memory loss will come to love sunsets or darkness, family members and friends can redefine how they view dementia: as an opportunity to relate to their loved one in new ways, rather than a loss.
This is a radical idea, though not without precedent. In her book, Adventures in Mother-Sitting, Doreen Cox describes her emotional roller coaster of grief intermingled with surprising instances of connection, not only with her childlike mother but also with her innermost self. She writes, “There were two things dementia could not destroy: my mother’s sweet spirit and her in-the-moment joy.”
In fact, even someone who has dementia can view it as a gift. Wendy Mitchell, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 at age 58, says dementia allows her to live in the present. Her book, Somebody I Used to Know, comforts those with cognitive decline and enlightens caregivers.
How We Help Make Holidays Happier at The Kensington
Here at The Kensington White Plains, we treat every day as a holiday, by providing the highest quality service, food, care, attention, and love to each of our residents.
A daughter whose mother and father both lived at The Kensington shared, “Nothing compares to the Kensington. You took great care of my parents and gave me peace of mind, knowing that my parents were being watched over by your caring staff.
As you know, my mother loved living at the Kensington. I think it probably was one of the best times in her life. From the library to the arts and crafts shows, I think there was nothing she was prouder of and nothing she would have rather been doing. Even after my mother’s passing my dad still went to the movies and sat out on the terrace to get some sun. I attribute that to what a warm and comfortable place the Kensington was, and I’m sure continues to be.”
We invite you to come visit us soon, explore our lovely environment and grounds, perhaps join us for a meal — and discover why The Kensington White Plains may be the ideal next step for your loved one now.
Additional Recommended Reading:
- Four Common Types of Dementia
- How to Smooth the Transition to Assisted Living
- How Journaling Helps Your Brain
- Aging and Maintaining Independence
- Food and Memories Go Hand in Hand