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Dementia and the holidays: what you can do to help your loved ones

National Council of Dementia Minds why the holiday season can be challenging, and what can be done to help
Posted at 8:22 AM, Nov 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-19 09:24:14-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The holiday season can be a source of stress for anyone, but it's a time year that people with dementia can find particularly difficult. Neurocognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, make attending social gatherings straining for those suffering from the conditions. Fox 17 was joined by Brenda Roberts of the National Council of Dementia Minds on some tips for making the holidays go smother for those many help take care of every day.

The National Council of Dementia minds (NCDM) is a ground led by persons living with neurocognitive disorders.

“While we look forward to celebrating the holidays with family and friends, it can be a stressful experience for people living with dementia,” said Roberts. “Over stimulation during holiday gatherings can lead to mental, emotional, and physical pain for those living with dementia.”

In order to reduce stress, Roberts recommends hosting smaller gathers for shorter periods of time. If possible, hosting instead of visiting friends of family is preferable. If that's not an option, letting the host know of any accommodations needed for your loved ones is the next best choice.

The NCDM also offers additional tips for navigating social gatherings:

· Plan smaller and shorter gatherings. Too many people and long events can be exhausting for a person living with dementia.

· Host the gathering in your own home. Avoid the stress of an unfamiliar environment by hosting celebrations in your own home where the environment is familiar.

· Simple table settings are best. Formal table settings with multiple utensil options like drinking glasses, cups and plates can be overwhelming and the persons living with dementia may not know the appropriate utensil;

· Consider providing name tags. Avoid asking if you remember me or what my name is. Instead, introduce yourself.

· Don’t ask the care partner in front of me how a person with dementia is doing: Instead, ask the person with dementia how they are doing.

· Seating at table: Do not place a person living with dementia in the middle. Sitting at the end of a table can help avoid multiple conversations going on at the same time.

· Designate a quiet room: If you see the person with dementia is getting distressed or overwhelmed, they can retreat and regroup in the quiet space.

· Avoid bright or flashy lights and loud music: This helps minimize over stimulation.

· Don’t correct the person if they do not have their facts correct: Accept their reality.

· Buffet style serving can be overwhelming: If buffet style is used, do not provide too many food options on the plate of the person living with dementia.

· Avoid pressuring the person to eat at the gathering: Food can be a challenge as well. Some people living with dementia experience changes in taste and smell. Eating may not be the enjoyable experience it once was.   

Even though people living with dementia can easily be worn out by social interactions, Roberts adds that it's also important to remember many struggle with social isolation as well; sending a card or calling can go a very long way.

The National Council of Demential Minds has more information on how to help your loved ones with demential get through the holidays available on their website.

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