For many of us, holiday time may be the first time in many months or even years that we are seeing our family members. Changes in cognition in someone who lives with dementia can be a game changer for family gatherings. We want to offer you some suggestions to make your holiday visits as successful and loving as they can be!
When preparing, consider:
- More than one or two visitors at a time can be overwhelming.
- Keep the environment as calm as possible. Turn off loud music or TV. Distractions are difficult for everyone, especially people living with dementia.
- Visits should be scheduled at times that you know are most likely to be enjoyable for your person…if there is a time they like to nap or watch a favorite TV show, or even a time when they typically get anxious (sundowning), consider this.
- Share this information with your planned visitors in advance so that they have time to think about it and prepare.
- Remember that people living with dementia can be very sensitive to certain nuances in body language and tone of voice – be aware of yours and what impact you may be having on your loved one.
- Speak in short sentences with simple concepts. One thought or idea at a time so there is less to track.
- Always try and make eye contact, out of respect.
- Speak slowly and unless the person is hearing impaired, with a pleasant, normal volume to your voice.
- Remind the person who you are. “Hi Mom, I am your daughter Susan.”
- Allow time for your words to be processed and be patient if extra time is needed to answer a question (again, simple questions only.)
- Questions should be open-ended with no correct or incorrect answers.
- Learn to be okay with silence. Sometimes, dementia or no dementia, it is nice to sit in silence with someone else.
- Validate their feelings. Learn to manage your own feelings if they express being afraid, or sad, or upset. Learn to deal with yourself.
- Meet them where they are…..you cannot force someone with dementia to enter your reality or to necessarily meet your needs. Appreciate the precious time you still have together.
- Talk about the past. Many people with short-term memory loss still have a good grip on long-ago memories!
- Use touch to express that you care. Often people living with dementia crave a gentle, loving touch and are often lacking in that kind of contact.
Try Not To……
- Ask if they remember something from the recent past.
- Become impatient with repetition. They cannot help it.
- Bring attention to their “mistakes” – it likely will only serve to make them feel badly.
- Make assumptions or speak for them – if someone offers a cup of tea, let them process the question and answer for themselves.
- Talk to them like they are children. Condescension is painful. Chances are they are your parent or older relative – no need to emphasize the role reversal.
- Talk to someone else in the room as if your (Mom, Dad, Sibling) was not in the room.
- You don’t want to leave your holiday visit with regret. Regret that you weren’t more patient, more empathetic, more loving. Prepare yourself to be the best you can be for someone you have loved and who has loved you for most of your life!