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Successful Holidays with Dementia Patients

Tips for Successful Holidays with Dementia Patients

The holiday season can represent a sense of loss for families and friends of nursing home patients with dementia. At the same time, it can trigger stressors for patients through changes in routines, the environment, and social interactions. Here are some tips for making holidays as enjoyable as possible for your patients and families.

Simplify decorations

Keep decorations simple. Large displays, rearrangement of living spaces, clutter, and blinking lights are examples of holiday decorations that can cause confusion, reports the Mayo Clinic. Keep safety in mind, too, they advise. For example, a patient may try to eat decorations that look like edible treats. Fragile decorations could cause accidents. Decorations should be secured so they can’t fall, suggests the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

Minimize overstimulation

Too much noise, loud conversation, loud music, or intense changes in lighting can cause stress, says the NIA. Keeping the environment calm can help a patient enjoy the experience.

Holiday music

Use music and encourage patients to clap, sing, or move with the music. “Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer's disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease,” says the Mayo Clinic. Often, music can relieve stress, anxiety, and agitation. Mayo recommends keeping the volume at a “relaxing” level.

Involve patients

Involving patients in holiday preparations in any way that is patient-appropriate can help familiarize them with upcoming celebrations. Even just observing preparations can be helpful, says the NIA. Some patients may enjoy looking at photo albums or watching a holiday movie.

Have a quiet plan

In case a patient should become anxious or agitated, it’s a good idea to have a quiet plan ready, recommends the NIA. You may have quiet distractions ready, “such as looking at pictures or going for a walk,” they suggest. You want to be sure there is a quiet space available for the patient if needed.

Limit visitor counts

For some patients, it’s helpful to keep visitor counts low. This could mean arranging for only a few family members to visit at a time, says the NIA.

Prepare visitors

If family or friends are coming to visit, some may not have interacted with the patient for a while and could be surprised by any decline. You can help prepare them by explaining any behaviors they may expect from their loved one, such as wandering, eating with fingers, or other behaviors, says the NIA. Prepare visitors for memory losses, such as a possible inability to recognize them, and explain this is not intentional, suggest the NIA. Remind visitors to make eye contact, speak slowly, and avoid questions that may be difficult to answer. Explain that they do not need to correct or criticize what a patient says. Hugs, gentle touches, and friendly body language can set the emotional tone that brings joy to the patient.

Protect against fatigue

Ensuring adequate opportunities for rest will help a patient with dementia maximize enjoyment around the holidays.

Happy holidays with dementia

With careful planning and support for families, you can help make holidays fun and fulfilling for patients with dementia. Managed well, holiday closeness can enhance quality of life for your patients and their loved ones.