Preparing for the Holidays


The holidays are busy. Parties to attend, family to visit and family to entertain, gifts to buy, dishes to make. It can all be too much – especially when you are caring for a loved one with dementia. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The point of the holidays isn’t all the stuff and the hoopla. The point is to celebrate, to honor, and to cherish. It’s okay if the season isn’t as grand as it once was. Don’t expect it to be. You want to know the best holiday recipe? A heaping cup of simplicity and a half of cup of planning with a pinch of good communication and boundary setting. That makes for some joyful days!

Here’s our recipe for happy holidays. We suggest you start prepping the ingredients now, but in your holiday prep, keep in mind that there’s no perfect holiday. Perfection is unattainable, but really good days are possible. This is how we think you can make them happen:

Declutter the calendar.

Don’t plan to attend every event and party. It is OK to say No to invitations (and not feel guilty about it). Strategically pick and choose which events you would like to attend. For example: Instead of hosting your usual Christmas Eve dinner with the whole family and you cook everything, choose to host a lunch potluck. Lunch may be a better time of day for your loved one, and a potluck takes the pressure off you. AND/OR you can ask another family member to host, so you and your loved one can attend and leave when needed.

Scale down, and turn down the volume.

Your loved one may not be able to handle a full day of the entire family. Limit time at gatherings. You can also find a quiet room for your loved one to be in, and ask family and friends to visit one-on-one in a much more manageable environment.

Stick to the routine.

The holidays can get our schedules out of whack. Keep routines as much as possible because routines make for easier days. Serve meals at regular times, schedule afternoon rest at the regular time, go to sleep at the regular time. Keeping to a schedule will help your loved one remain as rested as possible.

Involve your loved one.

While Mom may not be able to independently make her famous coconut cake, she can help pour pre-measured ingredients and stir everything together. While Grandpa might not be able to chop wood or light the fireplace, he can help carry in a piece of wood. While your wife may not be able to play the piano, she can still sing along, dance, or just enjoy the music.

Make a wish list for you and your loved one.

Your gift wish list should look different than it has in the past. Here are some things we suggest: money to pay for care, soft blankets, 30-piece puzzles, magazine subscription, gift card for stores or for meals to-go, favorite music, personalized book with family pictures and captions about who is in each picture/what is going on in the pictures (recommendation: Shutterfly).

Help your family and friends know how to interact.

Explain to family and friends about your loved one’s current state, so they will know what to expect. Remind them NOT TO QUIZ. Instead of asking, “Do you know who I am?” coach them to prompt: “Grandpa, it’s Jason. I’m so glad to see you.” And instead of asking, “Susan, who is in this picture?” coach them to tell a story: “Susan, (while showing the picture), here is a picture of us in Gatlinburg. That was a fun trip. It snowed the whole time.” Remind family members not to argue, even if what is being said makes no sense. Go with the flow of the conversation.

Simplify decorations.

Too many decorations may be too much for your loved one to take in… and too much for you to put up. It is OK to scale down. Maybe you only decorate the mantle or have a table top tree instead of decking out the whole house. Maybe you just put a wreath on the door instead of lights everywhere. Maybe you just put out a pretty tablecloth instead of the endless china set.

Plan ahead.

Planning ahead allows you to create opportunities for success. Order your groceries online to avoid the craziness of the aisles at the store. Start your gift shopping early to avoid the rush and crowds. Crowds are overwhelming. Plan around them.

Make time for yourself.

Plan for an in-home caregiver, so you can go to a Christmas party or get shopping done. (Schedule this EARLY!) Or ask a family member to come stay with your loved one, so you can get things done.

Enjoy!

Sit with your loved one and listen to Christmas music. Turn down the lights and watch the tree glow. Go for a drive to see lights. Watch an old Christmas movie that you both have always loved. Eat pumpkin pie for breakfast. Take time to enjoy the holidays and your family.

2 Important Bonus Notes:
1. If you are traveling, plan, plan, plan, and see our blog post on travel tips.
2. If your loved one lives in a facility, ask when holiday activities are scheduled, and plan to be there to celebrate with your loved one.