Celebrations and holidays: When a loved one has dementia

Celebrations and Holidays 

by Teepa Snow, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA

As the end of the year approaches, many of us have rituals and celebrations as part of our lives. At these events, dementia can become a very interesting, and sometimes surprising, guest.

Although we tend to think about holidays and their celebrations as joyful, it is important to remember that there are several aspects that cause stress: feeling the pressure of time as you try to continue your daily routines while planning for something new, growing fear that you aren't prepared for your role in an event, and even memories of past gatherings or people that cause anxiety. As we dive in to the holiday season, it is a good idea to have a plan to help you find your balance.

With dementia, the key to a successful and joyful celebration is to:

  1. Get the team together before hand, and think through and develop Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C
  2. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst case scenario (avoid being blindsided)
  3. Go with the flow, and find moments for joy among the changing abilities
  4. Think shorter, simpler, and what is best for the GEM you see in front of you
  5. Consider what each person wants and needs from the celebration and see what is probable, possible, and unlikely

I offer two charts to help consider your options:

  1. Tips for the Holidays offers suggestions for the person living with dementia, the care partner, and any visitor.
  2. Celebrations by GEMSTM State offers thoughts about the world and experience through the eyes and brain of the person who is living with dementia. I offer suggestions on how to modify the celebration or event for improved participation and enjoyment with decreased stress and distress potential.

One final note, try to keep in mind that you matter, too! Take care of yourself and find ways to fill your cup and see, hear, and feel those special moments that happen. They may not appear to you until the celebration or event is behind you, so take a little time to reflect, either alone or with a friend depending on your needs.

May you find what your spirit and heart needs most in the celebrations of the moment.

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