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How to Prepare for Gatherings When a Parent Has Dementia

11 November 2020

The holiday season is upon us, and though it may look different from years past, it will still be a time when many families gather together to enjoy festivities. However, this can be an extremely difficult time for family caregivers of loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

It is not only a stressful time for caregivers, but it is also a stressful time for individuals themselves who are experiencing cognitive decline, as their routines are often shifted in order to accommodate the celebrations. If you are struggling to take care of your parent and enjoy this time of the year, this blog has many helpful pieces of advice. Keep reading to learn about six essential tips every dementia caregiver should be aware of when it comes to the holidays and family gatherings. 

1. Keep your parent on their regular routine.

As you may already know, individuals who suffer from memory problems tend to be at their best when they are on a routine. It can be comforting for them to be familiar with what they are doing, instead of being surprised with new tasks every day. With that being said, it can be easy for them to get off of their normal schedule once the holidays come around and family gatherings start to occur. These changes can cause them to become anxious. 

To combat this, try and keep them on a familiar routine as much as possible. For example, they may have breakfast every day around 8:00 am, take a walk at 11:00 am, have lunch at 12:00 pm, watch television at 3:00 pm, have their dinner at 5:00 pm, and get to bed at 9:00 pm. Whatever your parent’s schedule looks like, try to help them stick to it. 

As you begin to plan for family gatherings to take place, you may find that you are stretching yourself thin between helping your parent stick to their schedule and also getting things ready for the holiday season. Do not stress about their schedule being absolutely perfect; just try your best to accommodate their needs and make sure they are not overwhelmed or anxious during this time. 

2. Make sure that you are mindful of which decorations you use. 

If family gatherings are at your home and you often decorate for the occasion, be aware of what you are putting around the home. While decorations can be wonderful and bring a lot of the holiday spirit into your home, know that many of these can be hazardous for your parent who is living with memory loss.

In order to make an environment that is safe and tranquil, some suggestions include avoiding twinkling or flashing lights, as well as big displays that can cause people with dementia to become confused. Also, do not put out any decorations that may be hazardous, including lit candles and items that look like they could be edible. If you enjoy playing holiday music, make sure that the volume is not too high.

3. Involve your parent in activities. 

Did mom or dad use to enjoy baking treats for loved ones or getting the holiday meal ready days in advance? For a person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it can be beneficial for them to be involved in activities that remind them of when they were younger. Or, it can be a new activity that they love doing now. 

When it comes to all of this, every person’s level of comfort is different based on the stage of dementia they are in. Think about what would be best for your parent, and go from there. 

4. Ask for help in certain areas. 

As you prepare for family gatherings, it is also important to remember that you are still a caregiver. You may find yourself trying to balance getting ready for the holidays and taking care of a parent who needs more and more help every day. With all of this said, one of your priorities should be setting your own limits

You cannot accomplish everything, and that is okay. Try to find moments to relax in the days leading up to family gatherings and the days after family gatherings. It takes a lot of energy to prepare meals, get the house ready, and take care of an older adult with dementia on top of it all. 

In order to make sure you do not become extremely stressed, ask for help. If there are other people in your household who are capable of watching your parent for a little while or helping you clean every once in a while, try asking them for their assistance. 

Also, if you are having a get-together and find it very difficult to prepare food on your own, ask for people to bring a dish to share, or simply order pre-made meals. 

5. Keep your parent (and other family members) safe. 

During this time, it is important not to let your guard down in regards to the ongoing pandemic. While it is great to spend time with others at a family gathering, it is also important to keep yourself and others safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention share different precautions you should take when being part of a gathering with multiple people. 

For example, to help you and your parent stay at a low risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus, consider having a small dinner with only people within your household. If you are hoping to have an outdoor dinner with family and friends in your community, keep in mind that this is a moderate risk activity. Older individuals are at a higher risk of developing dangerous symptoms.

6. Do the best you can.

As you know, preparing for gatherings and for the holidays in general can be a lot of work for dementia caregivers. Try your best to be calm and enjoy this season! 

However, if you are becoming overwhelmed taking care of a parent on your own, we can help you. During a consultation, we would love to help you learn about our memory care services and how they can be beneficial to your parent. Request yours here.

Sources: 

1. Heerema, Esther. “The Benefits of Routines for People With Dementia.” Verywell, https://www.verywellhealth.com/using-routines-in-dementia-97625. Accessed 16 October 2020. 

2.“Alzheimer’s: Tips to Make Holidays More Enjoyable.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/caregivers/in-depth/alzheimers/art-20047715. Accessed 16 October 2020. 

3. “How to Navigate the Holidays When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s Disease or Related Dementia.” Dementia Care Central, https://www.dementiacarecentral.com/holidays/. Accessed 20 October 2020. 

4.“Holiday Hints for Alzheimer’s Caregivers.” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/holiday-hints-alzheimers-caregivers. Accessed 16 October 2020. 

5.“COVID-19: Holiday Celebrations.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html#thanksgiving. Accessed 16 October 2020. 

6.“COVID-19: Who’s at Higher Risk of Serious Symptoms.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-who-is-at-risk/art-20483301. Accessed 16 October 2020. 

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