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Hosting Holiday Gatherings When Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

Often those caring for a loved one with dementia avoid having visitors, especially over the holidays. It is easier to keep a low profile and not have to answer probing questions and deal with the startled looks on peoples’ faces when they experience a noticeable change in the family member with dementia.

If that sounds like you, it is certainly understandable. No one can blame you for pushing back on hosting holiday gatherings. However, if you have always enjoyed having visitors, you should know that, by planning ahead, you and your loved one with dementia can still enjoy holiday festivities.

Here are three tips to make your holiday gatherings easier:

  1. Plan smaller gatherings if possible: Large, boisterous parties and open houses can create an atmosphere of confusion for those with dementia. Plan a few smaller, more intimate gatherings. It will give you more control and allow you to better keep an eye on your loved one and how he or she is responding. And, it makes it easier to steer the party to a smoother conclusion than having to empty a full house of merry makers. You might also consider a brunch as opposed to an evening event. That will help lessen the “sundowning” effect; that time between day and night which can cause anxiety for those with dementia.
  2. Prepare your loved one for the gathering: Of course, how you do this depends on the cognitive ability of your loved one. For those with a higher level of awareness you can provide them with general information about the gathering, making it clear to them that they can participate as much or as little as they like. Show them photographs of the invited guests to make it easier. For those in mid stages of dementia it is best to keep to a regular routine as much as possible. Make sure your loved one is well rested and comfortably settled off to one side, rather than in the center of the gathering.
  3. Prepare your visitors: This can be challenging, especially when your gathering involves friends or relatives who haven’t seen your loved one for several months. The changes can be unsettling to them. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests putting together a carefully worded letter or email that you can send out to multiple people, updating them as to the condition of your loved one with dementia. Some suggested wording includes:

"I'm writing to let you know how things are going at our house. While we're looking forward to your visit, we thought it might be helpful if you understood our current situation before you arrive.

"You may notice that ___ has changed since you last saw him/her. Among the changes you may notice are ___.

"Please understand that ___ may not remember who you are and may confuse you with someone else. Please don't feel offended by this. He/she appreciates your being with us and so do we."

 

Amidst all the planning, make sure you are taking care of yourself. Consider taking a week or two for yourself to re-charge and prepare. Anthem Memory Care communities provide excellent short-term “respite care” programs that allow your loved one to experience professional, person-centered care while you take care of your personal business.

Above all, be easy on yourself. Resist the temptation to give in to others’ expectations based on parties from years past. Instead, take some time to prepare your loved one with dementia as well as family and friends. This holiday season may be different, but it can be just as enjoyable as ever.