Caring for Dementia during the holidays

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone, but they pose a unique challenge for senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, or those living with dementia and their caregivers. 

Dr. Joe Downs, from the Chattahoochee Hospice, said checking on caregivers of people with dementia is important all year around, but it can be especially important during the holidays. He said those who know someone who is a caregiver should reach out and ask them what they can do to help or give respite. 

“If they can’t themselves do the care, they could be at least a resource for the caregiver, not just during the holidays but all throughout the year because that’s such an ongoing thing,” Downs said. 

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Downs said in his 41 years as a practicing board-certified geriatrician, his own great-aunts from his childhood provided the best example of family caring for their sister, Sue. He said they often responded with humor and positivity to deal with Sue’s dementia because it was the best encouragement. 

Downs suggested that all caregivers read the book, “The 36-Hour Day” by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, which has important information on caring for those with dementia. 

One way to lower the stress of the holiday season is to keep the decorations simple. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, too much noise or flickering lights can overwhelm someone living with dementia. 

Lanett Senior Center Director Sandra Thornton said many seniors at the center are caregivers to their spouses. Putting up decorations can present a physical challenge, so it’s good to have timers and switches set up so that older folks can still enjoy the season.

It’s also important to build on past traditions and create new, adaptive ones based on what the person living with dementia can do now, rather than what they used to do. Downs said it can be nice to look at photos and remember past holidays. He said taking a ride around town can also be a fun and festive way to celebrate.

“And the caregiver probably needs to get out and see a change of scene too,” Downs said. 

Downs said people should check up on their friends and family who are caregivers and try to be a resource to them. Caregivers should pace themselves and seek out palliative care or hospice care to give themselves a respite. 

“Dementia care is a constant thing,” Downs said. 

Above all, disruptions in routine can be stressful for a person living with dementia. Caregivers should try to create a calm and safe space where their loved ones can maintain their normal routine as much as possible. 

Downs said nursing home nurses do a great job of creating activities and schedules for patients.

As for safety, it’s important to make sure there are no wires on the floor that can be tripping hazards, according to Thornton. 

To avoid fire hazards, don’t leave burning candles unattended. Downs also suggested hanging decorations out of reach where they can be seen and enjoyed but not t