If you have older family members with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of memory loss, you may be unsure of the best ways to keep your loved ones involved in family celebrations this holiday season, especially if they live in a care community. While learning to navigate the holidays when a loved one has memory loss can be challenging, there is no reason your family traditions need to fall to the wayside.
With over 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, you are not alone. Many families have asked themselves these same questions and taken steps to ensure their loved one’s needs are addressed. The good news is that many holiday traditions can be easily adapted, and you may ever find yourself adding something new to the celebrations you hold near and dear. Here’s our advice for making the most of the holidays in the way that fits your family’s needs.
Adapting Family Traditions to Include Loved Ones
If your family is like many others, the holiday traditions you hold near and dear have been around for decades. Your loved one with memory loss may have been instrumental in starting some of these traditions, or have grown up enjoying them as a child. People with memory loss often retain these long-term memories significantly longer than short-term memories, making long-standing holiday traditions particularly meaningful.
One way to help your loved one enjoy these long-term memories is to sit down and look through family photo albums with your loved one. Bring up favorite stories of past holidays, and ask your loved one to share their favorite memories of holidays past. Call their attention to elements of the celebration that they have particularly enjoyed in the past.
Creative activities incorporating art and music can also help put your loved ones at ease and may even help trigger old memories. The holidays provide ample opportunities to get creative with fun activities for those with memory loss. Try involving your loved ones in decorating cookies or cupcakes. Even if your loved for cannot help with the baking itself, decorating these baked goods can be a great way to get your whole family involved and let your loved one’s creativity shine. You might also put on your family’s favorite holiday songs while decorating to give the whole family something to sing about.
Adapting your menu may also help make your family member feel more comfortable, especially if they have certain health or dietary restrictions. High blood pressure, heart conditions or other health needs may limit choices for your loved one, so think twice when you plan your holiday meal and keep an eye on what foods they choose to eat. Family meals can also help ensure that your loved ones are remembering to eat regularly, especially for those who are used to a different routine or if they regularly live in a care community and will be away for any length of time.
Bringing the Holiday Spirit to Care Communities
If your loved one currently lives in a care community and leaving the community is difficult for them, it may not be feasible for them to make the trip to your holiday celebration. Choosing to celebrate early, or planning a visit on the holiday are both ways to ensure your loved one feels included during the holidays even if they are unable to safely leave their residence.
Help your loved ones get into the spirit by bringing decorations, gifts and any family members who are able to attend. Talk to staff at your loved one’s care community — they may be able to help you find a more intimate setting to celebrate, space permitting, or tell you about planned events you can participate in with your loved one. Creating or sharing in any celebration at your loved one’s care community will allow them to feel included in your plans for the holidays and brighten their spirits, even if they are facing medical conditions.
While making the effort to bring holiday cheer to your loved one’s community will likely be appreciated, it is important to remain sensitive to the fact that your loved one may be troubled about missing the holidays celebrations of their past, especially if this year will be the first time they are unable to attend certain events. This may seem unavoidable, but you can help to mitigate these fears by connecting with them ahead of time and involving them as much as possible in planning your celebration. Invite your loved to help make holiday cards for family members or ask for their input on holiday decor and menu items.
Family is an important part of the holidays, and whatever your family’s situation this year, you can create an enjoyable and meaningful celebration.