It’s that time of the year for Thanksgiving dinners and festivities, a commonly nurturing time for those persons with dementia-related illnesses and their family members.  But while the holidays bring people together, events involving infrequent visitors can cause significant anxiety or confusion for someone with a form of dementia.  

Although results can vary better for some than for others, here are a few tips, with the help of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, and the National Institute of Aging, to help families manage an even-tempered holiday season for a person with a dementia disorder, and their family members:

Assess Your Plans Before The Big Event:

Create an easygoing travel experience.  While individuals suffering from the early stages of dementia may be comfortable traveling, the process may become overwhelming as the illness progresses.  It is important to consult their physician to ensure travel is advised depending on the stage of illness, or duration of their trip.  

  • Make sure the trip accommodates the person’s style of comfort.  It will be key to ensure that the length of travel and mode of transportation chosen are specific to your loved one’s capability of stress management, and personal needs.  These arrangements additionally include the time of the day while traveling, and unique requests the person may have during their commute.   If you are traveling by car, bathroom and food breaks may be needed, and if traveling by plane, consult your airline to communicate special needs or safety concerns.
  • Honor the person’s routine.  Routine is imperative to uphold for a person with dementia-related diseases.  To prevent high stress or anxiety, attempt to incorporate the person’s daily habits or routine into their travel itinerary.  Meal times, for example, should be held as close to their regular schedule as possible.
  • Pack Accordingly.  Consider all items of comfort for your family member with a dementia-illness, whether it be water, snacks, blankets, etc.  Health insurance or any related information, medications, and doctor or physician contacts should always be with you.  

Preparing and managing the person with a dementia-illness:  Helping your loved one with dementia to familiarize themselves with expected guests will be very helpful to prepare them for the big day.  Additionally, tactics to help manage any level of stress during the event will be of great importance for the ease of both themselves, and their caretakers.  For example:

  • Begin showing photos of the expected guests for the person with dementia-illness to see before the actual day of celebration.  This will help to familiarize the person’s mind with who they will see during the actual event(s), and help curb any embarrassment or discomfort the person could feel without seeing faces prior to.
  • Keep the mentally-impaired family member’s routine as close as possible before, during, and after the gathering(s).
  • Fit time in for adequate naps if needed, or rest time for the person with dementia-illness. 
  • Prepare a few quiet distractions to use such as going for a brief walk, or looking at pictures to help balance their temperament if they become anxious, overstimulated, or upset.
  • If possible, coordinate a phone call with some of the guests who will be visiting your mentally-impaired family member to help familiarize them as much as possible before meeting times. 

Preparing the guests for the dementia-illness family member:  Helping your guests to understand the levels of mental illness your family member may be experiencing will be very helpful in preventing any awkward or unexpecting moments that could occur during the festivities.  Give your guests potential examples of behaviors they might see, helping to prepare them for what could happen in advance.  For example:

  • Explain that the symptoms of the memory loss is not intentional, nor personal, but rather due to the mental disease. 
  • Help those guests who may find the experience hard to grasp that the memories made in the present are more important to cherish, rather than harping over what the person with dementia-illness has forgotten (although it may be painful to experience). 

Always remember that a strategic plan makes for a more enjoyable, and manageable holiday season, as early preparation can help derail any ordeals for your family members with special care needs. 

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