Holidays and special occasions
For some of us, holidays or other special life events can be stressful, particularly if you are a caregiver or a person living with dementia. But there are also benefits to connecting. Here are some ways to manage challenges.
Living with dementia or caregiving—as well as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic—can present new ways of thinking about holidays and celebrations.
The good news is that it can still be possible to be a part of significant moments with friends and family, to celebrate people and relationships.
As you line up events—whether holiday parties, weddings, birthdays, or even funerals—remember to plan early, set realistic expectations, adhere to local public-health guidelines and simplify your plans.
Here are tips for engaging in holidays and events:
- Follow advice from your local public health authority about gathering-size limits and (if travelling) any quarantine guidelines and risk assessments.
- If you can't join in person, consider a brief video chat or phone call into the celebration if that's a good fit.
- Also consider an all-virtual celebration if that's the most optimal arrangement.
- Do only the occasions and traditions that are most important to you and your family.
Timing and scale
- Keep celebrations short. At longer gatherings, consider attending for only the most meaningful part of the event.
- Plan festivities on a day and time that suits the person or people with dementia.
- Plan smaller get-togethers. This will minimize stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.
- If meeting in person, include a quiet area where a person can retreat and have someone keep them company when needed.
- If meeting online, consider time or flexibility for screen breaks.
Places and platforms
- If meeting in person, choose familiar places for events to help avoid confusion.
- If meeting online, try to use a familiar platform that automatically displays attendee names.
- Consider meeting outdoors—if the site is familiar—to reduce Covid-19 transmission.
- If meeting indoors, open windows and screen doors as much as possible for related ventilation.
- If you are a person with dementia, do try to think about what you would most like to do for preparations and communicate that if possible. Some people like stirring batter, making cards, choosing music or wrapping gifts, but there are many other options.
- If you are a caregiver, do make sure to involve the person with dementia in preparations, especially with tasks they can still do or enjoy.
- Keep everyone's favourite foods in mind, while also being mindful that too much rich food can result in discomfort.
- If gifting is part of the celebration, make sure everyone is included in gifting.
- Do things that have meaning such as looking at old family photographs or singing favourite songs.
- Don’t overdo it. It may be tempting, as either a caregiver or a person with dementia, to go all out or try to keep traditions from previous years going. But it’s really important to pace yourself.
- Ask a friend or neighbour to help with shopping or cooking—and don’t refuse help if it’s offered!
- Assign specific tasks to your children, relatives and friends.
- Adjust your priorities. How urgent is this?
- Pat yourself on the back. Recognize the important work you do and how much you mean to the person you’re caring for, or the person who cares for you.
It’s also a good idea in holiday periods to make a list of doctors or walk-in clinics and pharmacies that are open during holidays in case of an emergency. And if you or another person is on medication, make sure you and/or they have enough to get through the break.
Emotionally, special occasions can bring up feelings of joy or sadness. Try to accept the feelings that come up for you and others.
If a celebration reminds a person with dementia of events from the past, he or she may speak of people and things from that era. Rather than trying to reorient the person to the present, caregivers and family should be open to talking about a past event and memories of similar occasions.
Remember: changing abilities do not alter a person with dementia’s importance in the family or the need to be included at special events.
And also remember: you’re not alone. Call your local Alzheimer Society if you need to talk to someone who understands the stress you’re feeling.