For many, the most wonderful time of the year is here. While the hustle and bustle of the holidays may be exciting for us, it can often be overwhelming for the elderly. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you may have to modify some family traditions to ensure everyone has the best season possible.
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind during the holidays for your elderly loved ones:
Repetition: While you and I might easily get bored with repetitive activities, someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease actually can find it comforting and reassuring. New activities could create stress and confusion.
Sense of calm: It is easy for an elderly person to be overstimulated during the holidays. Try to keep the environment peaceful and routine.
Specific interests: Find things that have been interesting to your loved one in the past. Listen to some favorite music, do familiar crafts and play traditional games.
Environment: If taking a loved one out of his or her normal environment is disruptive or creates anxiety, consider an intimate gathering at his or her home. If a loved one is in an assisted-living community, it might be good to create a new experience that includes gift exchange, meals, songs and activities there.
Shopping: If a loved one wants to go shopping, make sure to go during off times when there are fewer people and less traffic.
While some traditions may no longer be practical or possible, new traditions can begin. Simple, repetitive tasks are safe and fun and give your elderly loved ones a sense of pride and self worth by contributing to the family holiday.
• String popcorn, Fruit Loops or another treat for some colorful tree decorations
• Crack nuts (give them an old-fashioned nutcracker with a large bowl of walnuts, pecans and Brazil nuts)
• Decorate apples and oranges with cloves and ribbons
• Make holiday cards
• Play classic holiday music (Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Elvis, etc.)
• Read holiday books aloud
• Bake cookies, pie, cake, etc.
• Take a stroll or drive through town to see store windows and holiday decorations
• Polish the silver for the arriving guests
• Work on holiday-related crossword puzzles
• Make a simple holiday floral arrangement for the centerpiece
• Wrap gifts
• Collect pine cones for a decorative basket or bowl
• Rent a favorite classic holiday movie
• Create a photo album together
These are just a few holiday activities that your elderly loved ones and the rest of your family, including children, can enjoy together. Stretch out the activities and gift exchanges. Do a few activities and gifts at a time, then take a short break for tea and cookies before returning to the next activity or gifts.
Give yourself a challenge to match the tempo of your elderly loved ones. The holidays are a great time to slow down instead of speed up.
Think about all the things you can leave undone instead of all the things that need to be done.
Try to stick with regular schedules as much as possible and plan activities during the time of day when your loved one is most calm and interested. And remember to take care of yourself and your own needs while caring for your loved one this holiday season.
Cher Haack is the executive director of The Lodge Assisted Living Facility in Carson City.