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Celebrating the season with people with dementia

December 15, 2015
by Nicole Stempak, Associate Editor
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The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year. They can also be the most stressful, particularly for family members of a loved one with dementia.

“It takes a village to care for a loved one with dementia when it’s not the holiday,” says Brandi Medina, director of programs and education at Alzheimer's Association-Mid South Chapter in Huntsville, Ala., in a chapter webinar on Alzheimer's and the holidays. “Add the stress of the holiday, and it can be too much.”

Medina says the holidays can be difficult because it forces family members to acknowledge their loved ones have the disease. Feelings like frustration, denial and embarrassment are normal and need to be acknowledged.

Tips for loved ones to celebrate with their family this season:

  • Attend a facility-planned activity together
  • Bring a favorite holiday food to share
  • Sing holiday songs and invite other residents to join in
  • Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud.

“I’ve talked to many families, and they say ‘This is not my loved one.’ I tell them ‘You’re right. This is not your loved one. This is the disease.’ The behaviors, the reactions are caused by the disease. They’re not being mean or stubborn (on purpose.)”

Medina says it’s important for loved ones to express those emotions because Alzheimer’s disease can age the caregiver as much as the loved one with the disease. Changing how the holidays are celebrated can help everyone remember the true meaning of the season.

She advises maintaining a normal routine -- and to plan time for breaks between merriment. Get people with dementia to engage in the festivities as they can manage, Medina says. The important thing is that they are included in activities that are meaningful and they are celebrated in a way that is manageable for them.

“A holiday is still a holiday whether it is celebrated at home or at a care facility,” she says.


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