Holidays are a time to gather with family and friends to celebrate and spend time together, but when you are caring for someone with dementia, holidays can also be overwhelming, stressful and potentially dangerous. A little pre-planning can go a long way towards making your holidays safe, less stressful, and hopefully enjoyable.
Whether you are hosting the family gatherings or traveling to them, it is important to think about how the environment may impact the individual with dementia. For many people, they can quickly become overwhelmed and anxious when around loud noises, multiple conversations, and people whom they may not recognize. If possible, prepare a quiet area for the individuals to interact with a few people at a time and allow them to rest and regroup in a safe place. It may help to look at family picture albums a week before the holiday gathering and remind the person with dementia who the people in the picture are and that they will be coming over soon. Depending on the individual with dementia, this might make family and friends more familiar to them and hopefully limit some of the anxiety that may come from not recognizing the people that will attend holiday events and parties.
Be prepared that any change in routine may affect how the person with dementia behaves. They may experience new or increased anxiety, fear and anger. They could have incontinence issues, they may wander or pace, and could easily fall and hurt themselves as they react to a strange and unfamiliar environment. Discussing these potential issues with family and friends and letting them know about any changes in the person with dementia since they last saw them, will help them prepare for what to expect ahead of time as well. It is a good idea to designate someone to keep an eye on the person with dementia and make sure they are doing okay and that they do not wander off or not be engaged in holiday festivities.
If the person with dementia is mobile, it is important to ensure the holiday home environment is safe. Make sure there is a clear and safe path for the person to walk and remove any tripping hazards like throw rugs and holiday decorations that may be in the way. Be aware of decorations and displays that the person with dementia might be inclined to put in their mouth, like artificial fruit centerpieces that might appear as real fruit. Keep them away from the kitchen if they are not safe around the stove or any sharp cooking or cutting utensils. Also, keep the individual away from any lit candles to reduce the chances of them getting burned or potentially starting a fire.
The more you plan ahead and think about any potential hazards that may affect the person with dementia and limit the distractions that might increase their agitation and confusion, the more you will be able to relax and enjoy the holidays with friends and family, knowing that they are safe and hopefully enjoying the holidays as well. If you know ahead of time that the holidays will just be too much for the person with dementia, you may want to consider scheduling respite care for the individual or hiring someone to stay home with them while you attend holiday gatherings.