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Tips to Engage Loved Ones with Dementia in Holiday Festivities

Holiday time can be challenging for all of us!  Added dates on the calendars, to-do lists, and travel plans can stress the best organized among us.  Folks dealing with dementia may not be tackling the everyday tasks of the season, but they are probably trying to understand the added activity around them. Connecting to favorite holiday traditions from their past will help them celebrate the present.  Doing holiday-themed activities that they enjoy will allow them to join the season’s fun too.  Take some time to enjoy a cup of cocoa and watch a favorite holiday movie together.  Stay light-hearted, and avoid doing too much!

  1. Play holiday music from your loved one’s past.

Music makes deep connections with people of all ages.  The Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Center creates music boxes for people based on playlists popular when the person was in their late teens and early twenties. These are the deepest embedded songs in people’s memories.  According to Ashley Gravatte at ADRC, “Music not only works for reminiscence but can help with reduction in stress, anxiety, depression and agitation. Music invites us to participate in meaningful social interactions or simply moving from one place to another with a fun rhythm. Studies have found that the part of the brain that preserves our memories related to music are often untouched by the disease and may never leave the person as the disease progresses.” 

Playing the holiday tunes from “back in the day” might bring a new sparkle to your loved one’s eye.  You might even get them to sing along!

  1. Insert Holiday Themes into Regular Activities.

If your loved one enjoys word searches, give her some holiday word searches this season.  If paint-by-numbers keep her occupied, throw in some home-for-the-holiday scenes.  Decorate sugar cookies with him, if he enjoy helping in the kitchen. Most of all, keep the activities to the level your loved one can handle. You don’t want to overwhelm him or confuse her.

  1. Watch Holiday Movies and Look Through Family Photos.

Even if your loved one can’t sit through an entire holiday movie, watching a bit at a time might bring him joy.  She might enjoy seeing family photos from holidays gone by.  You could post some around the house as part of your decorating.  Memories of joyful times may be comforting and help orient your loved one to the season. 

Above all, keep your loved one physically safe and emotionally secure.  The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that you “avoid using candies, artificial fruits and vegetables as decorations because a person living with dementia might confuse them with real food. Blinking lights may also confuse the person.”  Keep your loved one’s routine as normal as possible and avoid taking on too many tasks.  You’ll both be less stressed.

Happy Holidays from All of Us at Flourish in Place!

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