By Sue Ryan
In our healthy minds, holidays can be a wonderfully overwhelming time of family coming together, crowding together, catching up, gatherings, outings, lots of delicious food, noise, activity, early mornings, long days and late nights.
In not so healthy minds this isn’t wonderfully overwhelming, it’s overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help you positively navigate your holidays with your loved ones who are living with the diagnosis of a type of dementia. When you make it as easy as possible for them to have their best experience, you will too.
Vary the degree of each of these tips based on where your loved one is in their diagnosis. In the earlier stages these aren’t as significant. As their diagnosis progresses these become more important.
It’s wonderful to remember how your loved one has been throughout their life. They’re now in various stages of changes they have no control over and may not be the same as you remember. Observe them with fresh eyes in each experience.
Massive Acceptance and Radical Presence
Accept them exactly where they are at this time in their life. Be fully present with them. Engage with them from this place so you can be together with love and joy in their good moments and support them in their challenging moments.
Get very clear on the routine of their day. When making plans you want to include our loved one in, it’s important to keep them in their normal routine as much as possible.
Look for signs they’re comfortable or uncomfortable. If they become uncomfortable, it’s ok that you may not know what to do. Don’t feel like you’ve done something wrong. They don’t always have access to what they used to. If they’re becoming uncomfortable, rather than trying harder, find someone who they are familiar with who can support them where they are now and help you navigate your experience together.
When talking with them, get to their level (sitting, standing), look them in the eye, smile, observe their behavior. Be a calming presence.
It’s harder for your loved one to process what’s going on around them. Their brain is working harder throughout the day which is exhausting for them. Slow your physical pace around them as well as the pace of your voice if you’re a fast speaker. Adjust your pace by observing them as you’re speaking. Have one person speak with them at a time and help them follow conversations when there are several people together. Leave plenty of time to get places you’re traveling to.
Make it easy to engage with them in a conversation. Instead of asking questions, share with them a treasured memory and use their family name (Pop Pop, Nana, Uncle Mike, etc.).
Don’t crowd around them. Spread out family hugs so they can process one experience at a time. Have them in a room where a few people can be with them at a time rather than the noisy and crowded living room.
What is the sweet spot of the time of day when it’s easiest for them to engage? Have your big meal then – OR – if you’re having your big meal in the evening and it’s not the best time for them, consider whether having a smaller meal with a few family members at an earlier time of day and then taking your loved one home before the later big gathering will be easier for them, or having them with a few family members in the same room but a different table.
Enjoy the tiniest of moments with them. Lock those memories in your heart so that these are what you remember in your holidays to come. While they have a diagnosis that’s changed how you experience your time together, give them the best gift possible – you. Give yourself the gift of a new memory to be treasured.
Upcoming Event: Connecting During the Holidays
Discover additional tips to effectively connect with family and friends with memory loss in a free webinar. On Dec. 14, Sue Ryan will host Connected During the Holidays to help you better communicate with your loved ones, presented by the Florida Chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association®. Register today.
About Sue Ryan
SPEAKER/STORYTELLER, EDUCATOR, COACH, MENTOR, AUTHOR
For more than thirty-five years, Sue Ryan has been in roles of non-professional (unpaid) caregiving support for family and loved ones. She is currently navigating her husband’s care with his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. This includes caring for him through the pandemic with his diagnosis of COVID during care community lockdown, and his current support in hospice care.
Learn more about Sue on her website.