The holidays are a special time of year for everyone. It’s a time when family and friends can gather together and celebrate, whether for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Yom Kippur, among others. Dolan Memory Care Homes takes pride in celebrating a variety of holidays with our residents, regardless of religious affiliation. We understand celebrating the holidays with a loved one who has dementia can be difficult, so we’ve put together this guide to help explain some ways Dolan celebrates the holidays along with some helpful tips on making the most of your celebration.
We strive to make the holidays a more enjoyable time for the residents by spending time reminiscing about holiday traditions, decorating the homes, singing holiday songs, learning about specific holidays that some residents may not be familiar with and preparing foods that tend to be eaten around the holidays.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Hanukah
For our Jewish residents, we invite a rabbi from a local temple to help celebrate the high holidays. We have everything from potato latkes, blowing of the shofar, challah, apples, honey, menorahs, and of course music. Both Jewish and non-Jewish residents and their families are welcome to join this special event.
Residents who celebrate Christmas enjoy a Christmas tree in each Dolan home, often times decorated by those residents and their families. This special activity is reminiscent of happy memories many families have shared together over the holiday seasons.
During the holiday season, we are in full swing with decorating, gift-giving, party planning and one special event we like to call Jingle Bell Boutique. This fun event is a traveling store for the residents to attend and purchase gifts for their families. We recognize that while quality time is most important and not material “things”, it is still especially meaningful for the family members of a person with dementia (PWD) to receive a token their loved one has chosen just for them.
Giving and receiving gifts is a special treat during the holiday time, but it can be hard to know what to give a person with dementia. Knowing the stage of dementia your loved one is in can help determine what type of gift is appropriate.
In the early stages of dementia, mental stimulation is easily cued. As such, gifts like activity books (ex. crossword puzzles, word search books), classic movies or television shows, a pre-filled photo album or CD’s of favorite artists are all appropriate. These types of gifts offer mental engagement as well as cue reminiscence.
As an individual progresses to the middle stage of dementia, the type of meaningful gifts changes along with the person’s strengths. Orientating oneself to their surroundings is one ability that may start to diminish in this stage. Some gift ideas can include a large digital clock with the date and time, a personalized family calendar, coloring books, simple crafts, or an automatic nightlight if the loved one tends to wake up during the night.
At the late stage of dementia, it can seem increasingly difficult to find a gift that a loved one would enjoy. In this stage, focus more on simple, tactile pleasures. Some ideas are a fluffy robe or soft blanket in their favorite color, scented hand lotion, stuffed animals or dolls, sweat suits and shoes without laces to make dressing and undressing easier, and CD’s with personal music to which the individual still relates.
During the holidays it is likely your family will want to include your loved one with dementia. The best way to set up your loved one for success is to make the festivities accessible to them in an enjoyable way,
A helpful tip when having a party or gathering that will involve a PWD is to make sure others who are attending understand it can be hard for them to follow conversations or may repeat themselves. Alternately, the PWD may self-isolate and seem quieter than usual. Advise your fellow party-goers to be patient and give the person plenty of time to process what is being said and plenty of time to respond.
Consider placing your loved one at a smaller table with a few family members instead of the large table. Dementia diminishes a person’s ability to follow conversations between many people at once. Limiting the conversation to a few people at one table maximizes the individual’s ability to still participate in the festivities.
Another idea is to bring your loved one to a party for one portion of the celebrations. For example, instead of bringing your mom home for the entire day of Thanksgiving, consider bringing her over for dessert, or the cutting of the turkey. Depending on the stage of dementia, several hours of mental stimulation, trying to keep up with conversation and external stimuli can be extremely overwhelming.
If the loved one is living in a care facility, there are many ways in which you can still celebrate. Consider joining your loved one in planned holiday activities and/or bring in a favorite holiday food to share with others, sing holiday songs with other residents or watch a popular holiday movie. Any of these activities would help the person with dementia feel as though they are loved and make the holiday time special for them. Many communities, such as Dolan Memory Care Homes offer full-scale feasts for the major holidays. Dolan staff, families and residents alike are all welcome and encouraged to participate.
Whatever you celebrate, we hope you gleaned some helpful information from this guide. The presence of a memory impairment does not mean the holiday seasons have to be despairing; rather, there are many ways to make these important times still special.