When a loved one has dementia, there’s often a question about how the holidays should be handled. Do you continue to engage in longstanding family traditions, and what if Mom or Dad has no recollection of them? Is it OK to take your spouse with dementia on an overnight trip to see family? Can we bring the holidays to my uncle who lives in a nursing home?
In every case, the answer depends on your loved one.
Jennifer Baud, Social Services Manager at Maine Veterans’ Homes - South Paris, helps run an Alzheimer’s Association Support Group monthly at the home. She’s also experienced firsthand what it’s like to have a loved one with dementia – her grandmother died of the disease.
Baud offers some tips on how to enjoy the holidays when someone you love has a dementia diagnosis and how you can be sure it’s comfortable for everyone involved..
Traveling for the Holidays
If you plan to take your loved one to another person’s house for Thanksgiving, Christmas or any special celebration, communicating with the family and friends who will be in attendance is key.
Before the trip, educate them about the changes in your loved one and be honest about their diagnosis. Let them know certain things that may cause your loved one to get confused or upset. Also, remind them not to get offended if he or she says or does something out of the ordinary. Baud even encourages you to come up with cards that inform other guests, “Please be aware, my loved one has a memory issue, etc.,” and pass them out at get-togethers.
It’s also important to inform your loved one of the plan; where you’re going, how long you’ll be there; and any activities planned. This is good practice for not only an overnight trip, but for day trips as well. In addition, Baud says you should identify a quiet place in the home for your loved one to be if events become overwhelming.
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Should We Celebrate at the Nursing Home?
The answer to that is a resounding, “Yes!”
Many nursing homes, including those in the Maine Veterans’ Homes family, celebrate the holidays with decorations, performances and activities. They also offer special meals and parties you can attend with your loved one.
Amanda Dumont, Director of Nursing at MVH - South Paris, said these events are often a relief to family members who don’t know how they want to celebrate the holidays with their spouse, parent or family member who has dementia.
“This way, family doesn’t have to worry about having a holiday at their own home and trying to accommodate Mom or Dad at the same time,” Dumont said. “By participating in the home’s celebration, they’re also ensuring their loved will be comfortable in their surroundings, which will make for a more joyous holiday for everyone.”
Can We Bring Christmas to the Nursing Home?
“Absolutely,” says Baud, adding that a way to do it that is less overwhelming to your loved one is to make it a staggered event.
For example, invite the grandchildren for breakfast and to open one special present. After a break, you could welcome nieces and nephews for a visit.
However it’s done, it’s important to plan around your loved one’s schedule. Perhaps Mom responds better to visitors in the morning or Dad is more clear in the evenings. Be cognizant of those details and be considerate of the schedule your loved one keeps at their nursing home.
One thing Baud always encourages is reminiscing with favorite Christmas music or talking about memorable holidays. If they don’t remember, however - it’s OK. Don’t scold or express disappointment in them if they can’t remember.
“Live in their world,” she says.
Children and the Holidays
It can be difficult for children to understand that Grampy or Grammy doesn’t remember last Christmas or other memorable events. However, children are resilient, Baud says, and are often capable of understanding complicated issues better than adults think they can.
That’s why Baud encourages you to be honest with children when it comes to telling them about a dementia diagnosis in their grandmother or grandfather, aunt or uncle. Children can detect when something is wrong or when someone acts differently; keeping information from them about a loved one will only cause emotional distress.
In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association offers suggestions for books aimed at various age levels that help explain the diagnosis of a memory issue in a loved one.
Enjoy Time Spent Together
Holidays may not be the same since your loved one was diagnosed with dementia, but they can still be filled with joy and love. They key, says Baud, is to enjoy the simple moments – a hug, a laugh or the recognition of their favorite Christmas carol.
About Maine Veterans' Homes
The staff at Maine Veterans' Homes know how difficult it can be when a loved one’s dementia progresses to needing continuous supervision. Our dementia and memory care unit is staffed with professionals who possess the knowledge and resources to provide your loved one with caring, compassionate support. You can be confident your loved one will receive the specialized care he or she needs.
Learn more about our memory care services.