With the holidays approaching, all the fun and memorable events ahead present increased challenges for people with dementia. In addition, the darker days of fall and winter present other issues related to less sunshine. As many as 66% of people with dementia are thought to be affected by the setting of the sun. Beginning in the late afternoon, these people may show symptoms of confusion, anxiety, and aggression.
Families long for the traditions that mark the holidays. Special foods, music, colors, clothing, and decor shared with family and friends trigger emotions and tie memories of the past with the ones we make today. Sadly, our meaningful traditions are likely to be too much for our loved one with dementia. Including them can be more harmful and upsetting for them than enjoyable.
Brain power continues to diminish with dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. Every level of stimulation we present to someone with this disease requires them to manage it with less and less ability. Think of all the stimulation we have this time of year–holiday lights; aromas from the kitchen; rich foods; and music, laughter, and multiple simultaneous conversations. This stimulation overload is exhausting for the healthiest people much less those already fatigued from daily living.
Maintaining a predictable routine with limited, controlled stimulation, and periodic rest periods is the key to keeping a person with mid-to-late-stage Alzheimer’s and other dementias calm. Parties that include our loved one with dementia are best limited to a handful of people at a time, close to or at home, in a quiet location, and for no more than two to three hours including travel time. Small group visits throughout the season rather than everyone at one time may be the best alternative.
Family members who do not spend much time with our loved one are not likely able to understand the change in traditions, or that our loved one may not be able to attend their festivities at all. However, celebrations with a loved one with Alzheimer’s is often more difficult for them than memorable or meaningful and therefore, need to be modified or completely abandoned. If we truly love them, the impact of our festivities on them and how we may include them in a way that is good for them rather than appeasing our emotional needs will be our priority.