Northampton Press

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Another View

Thursday, November 29, 2012 by The Press in Opinion

Make the holidays memorable for family members with dementia or Alzheimer's

Hanukkah and Christmas are times of the year when family and friends come together to share memories, laugh, sing, decorate and exchange presents.

For people living with Alzheimer's or dementia, the holidays can be a difficult and stressful time.

I have found with my mother, who was diagnosed several years ago with dementia, this is the time of year when she becomes more depressed.

My mother does not remember the songs she use to play on the piano at family holiday gatherings. She also becomes more frustrated because she can't help decorate our home, do holiday cooking due to her loss of mobility and shaky hands, and she no longer sends Christmas cards to family or friends.

She also refused to participate in this year's holiday shop at the day care she attends.

Dr. Kelly Carney, executive director of Phoebe's Center for Excellence in Dementia Care, says one in eight people over the age of 65 has dementia.

The most important step in planning a holiday activity, according to Carney, is identifying the relative strengths of an individual with dementia.

"Once the relative cognitive strengths of the individual are identified, activities and events that will draw upon those strengths can be offered," Carney said. "The activity should fall within the functional capabilities of the individual."

She suggests choosing activities that will be meaningful to the individual, such as involving the person in meal preparation tasks he or she can safely manage.

Listening to holiday music together and singing along to familiar songs are also recommended.

Looking at photos and holiday cards from the past helps the person with dementia remember people and events he or she knew and loved.

Carney said the goal of any activity should be to share in the moment with the person with dementia, such as helping to mix the batter and decorate cookies or signing Christmas cards, wrapping gifts or decorating the home.

By caring for my own mother, I have learned it is important to establish traditions, such as taking her shopping to pick out gifts she wants to give to love ones.

Another way I try to connect her to the moment is to drive through our neighborhood to view the colorful holiday decorations.

Families who have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer's should choose activities their loved one is capable of or wants to participate in this holiday season.

Do not force them to participate in any activity.

Families should continue their celebrations as planned, keeping their loved one with dementia or Alzheimer's close at hand, if possible, so he or she can sense the joy of the holiday season.

Susan Bryant

editorial assistant

Parkland Press

Northwestern Press