Now that the holidays are here, you may be circling some dates in your calendar for visits with friends and family. As the song goes, it’s the most wonderful time of year. Although, after gift buying, party planning and more, it can certainly feel like it’s the most stressful!
It can feel even more trying for a person living with dementia. Common features of a holiday gathering—large groups of people, a quick pace and loud, frequent noises—can leave someone with dementia feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
But that doesn’t mean that people with dementia shouldn’t be included in festive plans. The holidays are just as important for those with dementia as anyone else. After all, spending special time with their friends and family members and celebrating holiday traditions can evoke pleasant memories. Visits are an important way for people living with dementia to stay connected, remain socially active and maintain their sense of well-being; all of which support brain health.
So what can you do to make holiday visit more comfortable and enjoyable for someone living with dementia? Here are 10 tips:
1. Plan your visit during a convenient time
While many holiday gatherings can take place later in the day and at night, this can be tiring for someone with dementia. Instead, consider scheduling your visit in the morning or in the middle of the day so the person you’re visiting is feeling fresh and rested. Every person with dementia is different, so check with the caregiver or others who visit about what’s best.
2. Plan for smaller, more personal interactions
More interactions mean more stimulation—though social activity is a good thing, the extra stimulation can become overwhelming, especially for people in the later stages of dementia. If you’re coordinating with other family members or friends, try staggering your visits rather than having everyone go at once. That way, the visit will be easier and more enjoyable for the person with dementia.
3. Understand the stage they’re in
People with dementia progress through different stages of the disease, and knowing which stage they’re in will help you plan your visit accordingly. Check with the caregiver if needed.
As the dementia progresses, the person you’re visiting may not recognize you as someone they know. Depending on the stage of the disease, you may need to introduce yourself and say why you’re there. No matter what stage the person is in, respectful and caring communication, and knowing which stage they’re in will help you plan your visit accordingly. Check with the caregiver if needed.
4. Bring along children
Children love the holidays, and that joyful energy can easily spread to people with dementia. Just make sure to explain to the childce before the visit what dementia is and what they should expect.
5. Bring a pet along
Pets can provide comfort and fun for people with dementia. They can also help provide a connection, especially for those with dementia who have trouble communicating.
If you’re visiting the person in a long-term care home, check their rules first regarding animals coming into the home.
6. Bring gifts and items that have meaning to them
When deciding what to bring to the visit, look for items that have meaning to the person with dementia. For example, the holidays are a perfect time to go over family photo albums and videos. They can help the person with dementia reminisce, and it’s a shared experience that everyone in the room will enjoy.
And what is the holiday season without a little gift giving? If you’re unsure about what to get the person with dementia on your list, check out our post on gift ideas for people with dementia. Remember, gifts that are unique to the individual can make the experience of gift giving more meaningful for you both. .
7. Make the environment calm and bright
Wherever your visit takes place, do your best to provide a comfortable setting for the person with dementia. One of the easiest ways to make the environment more welcoming is to reduce or remove sources of background noise, so turn off the TV, turn down the music and close the door. Also, try to use soft, warm lighting that won’t strain the eyes. Doing so will help make the visit more peaceful and allow the person with dementia to focus.
8. Find activities to do together
Find an activity you can do together that speaks to the person’s talents and abilities. A fun and festive activity could be baking their favourite holiday treats or decorating the tree.
If the weather outside isn’t frightful, consider going for a walk together so they can get a breath of fresh air and appreciate the winter wonderland.
If you’re visiting a long-term care home, ask the staff if there are any special holiday events going on, and ask the person with dementia if they would like to participate.
9. Get the person involved in decision-making
Speaking of participation, keep in mind that the activities you’re planning should be ones that the person is interested in doing. Once you have a list of activities in mind, ask the person with dementia what they think. By encouraging the person you’re visiting to make decisions about how to spend time together, you can enhance their independence and self-esteem.
Generally, it’s a good idea to limit the choices. Try asking, “Would you like to watch a movie or sit here and chat?” If that is too much choice, try “yes/no” questions such as “Would you like to watch a movie?”
10. Don’t rush
Though it’s best to keep your visit short, it’s important not to rush through the visit either. If you’re feeling stressed, the person with dementia will feel it as well. Pacing the activities throughout the visit will help you both feel relaxed. If the person you are visiting would rather have quiet time, respect those wishes. Remember, not all communication has to be verbal for it to be meaningful.
For more tips and information on planning your holiday visits for people with dementia, check out our page on Holidays and events.