The holiday season is the time of year to share the joys of togetherness and tradition with your family.
But for families whose relatives are experiencing memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the holidays can be more challenging and demanding at times.
Kensington Senior Living joined the Institute of Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association for an interactive virtual gathering on Dec. 14 called “How to Navigate the Holidays with Your Loved One with Dementia.”
Our discussion provided expert-level tips for families with loved ones with memory loss, such as purposeful gift ideas, meaningful ways to spend time together, and other ways to enjoy the holiday season with your loved one with dementia.
The Institute of Aging in a national organization that leads the scientific effort to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of our lives.
The Alzheimer’s Association is a non-profit orgnization that provides resources and support to caregivers and those affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Both partners embody the values and vision that The Kensington aims to carry out in its communities and care for its residents everyday.
Planning a dementia-friendly holiday gathering
The holiday season is a time filled with dazzling lights, favorite old songs, and familiar aromas from the kitchen. But it’s important to realize that many people with dementia and Alzheimer’s process sensory information differently.
This holiday season, we’ll find new ways to adapt old customs to become more inclusive for senior relatives experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s.
When decorating your home or your loved one’s home for the holidays, keep these sensory-friendly tips in mind.
Replace or reduce blinking, twinkling, and dazzling lights
If possible, try to scale down your lights or turn off the more dazzling string lights in your home before your loved one with dementia enters.
Twinkling lights can be overstimulated and distracting for people with Alzheimer’s disease. They can also trigger hallucinations, and the extra light cords can cause a tripping hazard.
Instead, keep your holiday lights minimal if possible, to avoid overstimulation and disorientation.
Avoid clutter and keep walkways hazard-free
Extra decorations in the home can definitely transform your space into a Holiday wonderland, but be careful of placing too many decorations or clutter in walkways throughout the home, as they can cause tripping hazards.
Christmas trees, wrapped presents, and string lights can all increase fall risk when they are placed in walking areas.
When possible, keep walkways, such as to the bathroom and front door clutter-free to reduce risk hazards.
Avoid choking hazards, such as decorative food
In an overwhelming sensory environment, it can be easy for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s to accidentally eat fake, decorative food, such as fake fruit platters or ceramic Christmas cookies, or other food-like decorations.
When hosting a party, try to limit or avoid altogether fake decorative foods or other items that can be confusing to a person with Alzheimer’s.
Remove any moving or life size figurines
Life size Santas, and other animatronic holiday figures with built-in motion detection and voice animation should be avoided, as these can disorient people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and cause unnecessary confusion.
Adapting holiday traditions — making memories and spending meaningful time together in simple ways
When celebrating the holidays with family members with memory loss, it’s best to “meet them where they’re at,” meaning finding ways to adapt old traditions to be dementia-friendly.
This may mean scaling down your family’s get-togethers or planning a separate holiday visit so your family members can spend more one-on-one time with your loved one with dementia.
Below are simple ways you can spend meaningful time together this holiday season with your loved one without overwhelming them:
- Listen to or sing along to old Holiday songs
- Watch old holiday movies
- Bake cookies and have your loved one decorate them
- Look through old photo albums together
Holiday gift ideas for people with memory loss
Finding the perfect holiday gift for family members with dementia can be difficult, as you don’t want to get them a present that’s too overstimulating or confusing for their cognitive level.
Below are a few suggestions for dementia-friendly holiday presents that your family member will love and cherish.
Fidget spinners and other fidget items
These kinds of “fidget” objects are helpful for soothing and calming down people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of anxiety, ADHD, and autism.
Additionally, playing with a fidget item can act as a form of occupational therapy, helping to keep hands dextrous and providing a stimulating and challenging form of enrichment.
We recommend the TWIDDLE Tactile Sensory Toys for Alzheimer’s Patients created to be a calming aid for adults.
Stuffed animals and other “Alzheimer’s dolls” are currently trendy holiday gift choices for people suffering from memory loss. We recommend the JC Toys – Lots to Love Babies 14″ All Vinyl Doll.
These kinds of snuggly gifts can provide the same calming effect as spending time with pets and can bring out your loved one’s nurturing instincts to stimulate positive emotions and happiness.
Who doesn’t like old familiar sweets? If possible, try to give your loved one some of their favorite snacks and sweets to bring back fond memories of holidays past.
Framed family photos are a nice gift to display in your loved one’s home with dementia. They’re low-cost and personal enough to make a sentimental gift.
While some digital frames could be overwhelming for dementia patients, we recommend the Skyzoo Frame: 10.1” Digital Picture Frame, which can be controlled and customize the settings via a free phone app.
Weight blankets have been trending in the past years as a way to soothe the nervous system and apply light, constant pressure to the skin.
Weight blankets can also reduce restless leg syndrome and anxiety.
Be careful not to buy too heavy of a weighted blanket. Keep the blanket’s weight under five pounds, as anything heavier will be too difficult to manage.
How The Kensington Redondo Beach devotes care to benefit both seniors and their family caregivers
In addition to providing outstanding care to our residents, we also extend The Kensington Promise to their families—to love and care for your family as we do our own.
We offer an exceptionally high staff-to-resident ratio to provide a greater continuum of healthcare than you’ll find at traditional assisted living communities, which include:
- Extensive support programs
- On-site rehabilitation (physical, occupational, speech)
- Life enrichment classes and events
- Accommodating special diets
- All-day dining
- License nurse on-site 24/7
- Specialized memory care team
- Two specialized memory care neighborhoods: Connections and Haven
Join The Kensington Redondo Beach, your partners in caregiving
If you have a relative with dementia or Alzheimer’s and you need more support, please visit Kensington Konnect, our educational and social hub for caregivers, or read our blog page for helpful articles related to senior health.
Interested in learning more about The Kensington’s available rooms or floor plans? Contact us today for more information!