They did it again this year: the holidays crept up and have taken me by surprise. Suddenly stores are decorated in tinsel and garland and tiny mechanical Santas are bumping and grinding to “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas.” I don’t think I’m alone in saying my stress level increases while my tolerance level decreases.

You know how stressful the holidays are for “normal” folk, but keep in mind that your loved ones with dementia are also feeling stressed. The sense of excitement they perceive but may not understand can increase confusion resulting in more frequent difficult behaviors. This in turn makes an already stressful situation more difficult for everyone. So in order to keep the peace and enjoy the holidays with your loved ones, I have put together a few tips.
First, there are four basic rules:
Maintain your loved one?s daily routine. Bathe, eat, and nap at same time as normal. If you are hosting a meal, schedule it to fit into the routine.

Limit and structure time to prevent exhaustion and mood changes.

Minimize noise and crowds. Too much noise or crowded places may cause an exaggerated reaction. Provide a quiet room for your loved one to retreat to.

Schedule rest and naptime.
Second, activities:
Know your loved one?s level of understanding and physical ability.

Include children if possible. It can be a rewarding experience for the young and the old.

Use music and singing, especially old holiday songs.

Reminisce with photo albums; tell family stories.

Encourage self-expression and creativity by making craft items like holiday fans or paper garlands. When baking, include your loved one. She can cut out cookies using large cookie cutters, or help decorate them using a cookie stamp.

Make sending holiday cards a joint effort. Your loved one can put cards in envelopes or stamps on envelopes depending on her ability.
REST as often as you can. Carve out an hour each afternoon, put your feet up and close your eyes.

BREATH. When you?re feeling stressed take two steps back, inhale slowly, hold your breath to the count of four, then exhale slowly. Repeat three times or until you feel calmer.

LAUGH with your loved one and others. Humor and laughter are great stress busters.

HIRE HELP to stay with your loved one while you shop and prepare, or send your loved one to an adult day center or senior center a couple of times a week.

Even during the most trying moments, remember to be thankful. Set up a gratitude calendar: for each day of the twelve days of Christmas or the eight days of Hanukkah, write why you are thankful for your loved one. It will help foster the bond between you.

Happy Holidays!

Mary C. Fridley