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  • Writer's pictureTatiana Phillips

Compassionate Holidays: Navigating the Season With Loved Ones Living With Dementia

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

A little boy wearing a blue tee shirt who is pointing out his missing tooth.

The holidays are often filled with warmth and love and spending time with family and friends. But, many people find this time of year can bring stress and anxiety, especially when including loved ones with dementia. Roughly one in seven Americans over 71 have at least one form of dementia. Many people get diagnosed and receive the care required to live as much everyday life as possible. Unfortunately, though, only half of dementia patients receive a proper diagnosis.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is tricky because it is a term used to describe several diseases affecting memory loss. As we age, our chances of developing one of the many diseases causing dementia double every five years after age 70. By the time you reach 90, 33 people out of 100 will develop dementia. While you may not be at risk for developing dementia, your aging parents might.

Signs of Dementia

Dementia symptoms vary depending on the cause. Common symptoms include:

Cognitive changes

  • Memory loss, which is usually noticed by someone else.

  • Problems communicating or finding words.

  • Trouble with visual and spatial abilities, such as getting lost while driving.

  • Problems with reasoning or problem-solving.

  • Trouble performing complex tasks.

  • Trouble with planning and organizing.

  • Poor coordination and control of movements.

  • Confusion and disorientation.

Psychological changes

  • Personality changes.

  • Depression.

  • Anxiety.

  • Agitation.

  • Inappropriate behavior.

  • Being suspicious; known as paranoia.

  • Seeing things that aren't there; known as hallucinations.

While these signs and symptoms are essential to note, several risk factors are involved in developing dementia, such as gender and sex, aging, genetics, ethnicity, cognitive reserve, lifestyle factors, and health conditions and diseases. Additionally, those living in rural areas, such as you do in Hardee and DeSoto Counties, also increase the risk of developing dementia. Rural areas are at a higher risk because of fewer resources available for educational purposes, job opportunities, suitable housing conditions, and health care obstacles.

Studies have shown that people with a lower education level or who do not use specific cognitive skills at work are more likely to develop dementia. Self-isolation is also a leading risk factor in developing dementia.

The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association notes that women and minorities such as Hispanics and African Americans are more likely to develop dementia—health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are common links.

Dementia and Communication

Even if your loved one has not yet had a proper dementia diagnosis, the following few tips might be helpful to implement. Communicating with loved ones ahead of time is vital to setting yourself up for less stress around the holidays. Your holiday routines may seem ordinary, but the additional stress may appear unexpectedly.

Let loved ones know about the possible or complete diagnosis of dementia before the holiday season. Communicating will help them prepare for repeated conversations, lack of desire to participate in traditions, adjusted roles such as hosting or preparing meals, and potentially adapting to an earlier meal time if your loved one gets agitated in the evenings.

Dementia and the Day of a Holiday

Adapting your holiday traditions may be necessary to accommodate your loved one’s dementia diagnosis. Some things to consider and ways to include them are,

  • Ask them to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate, or set the table.

  • Avoid using candies, artificial fruits, and vegetables as decorations because someone with dementia might confuse them with real food. Blinking lights may also confuse the person.

  • When making holiday plans, consider what will be most comfortable and enjoyable for the person with dementia while keeping safety in mind. Maintain the person’s routine as much as possible so that holiday preparations are not disruptive or confusing.

  • Focus on the things that bring happiness and let go of activities that seem overwhelming, stressful, or too risky. Taking on too many tasks can wear on both of you.

  • Build on traditions and memories and experiment with new traditions that might be less stressful or a better fit with your caregiving responsibilities, such as watching seasonal movies.

Additional Advice For Dementia and the Holidays

Living with dementia may be confusing for everyone, but your loved one will benefit from feeling in control of their life as much as possible. Their dementia may require more patience and empathy than you’re accustomed to. By adapting your day to include extra time around your holiday get-together for rest for your loved ones and yourself, you will set yourself up for a less stressful day.

During the holiday season, keep an activity or photo album handy for your loved one to stay busy. Ask your loved one about the photos or stories about family traditions. Even if you have heard the stories and traditions before, your loved one will feel included in your holiday celebration. By including your loved one in a two-way conversation, you will keep them engaged. Also, ask family members to refrain from simultaneous conversations, which may confuse your loved one.

Holidays are stressful without the added layer of a dementia diagnosis. Give everyone the grace and space to adapt to your new traditions.

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