Notes from the Parish Nurse

Adults at a table

The holiday season can be a happy, joyous time of year filled with family activities, good food, and gift giving. But the holidays can also trigger depression or feelings of anxiety or sadness in individuals. There are many reasons for people to feel down around the holidays: loneliness, bereavement, stress, fatigue, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), financial problems, family tensions, or dementia. The latter reason is not talked about much but will be discussed now.

When one has a family member with dementia, it is important to plan holiday events carefully so as not to overwhelm the person.

• Set realistic expectations for you and your loved one.

• Don’t change the person’s routine or the environment completely because it could cause increased confusion.

• Avoid candies, artificial fruits, and other edible decorations that might be mistaken for a snack.

• Avoid blinking lights on Christmas trees as they tend to increase confusion.

• Prioritize which traditions are most important to you and make modifications to them whenever possible. Rather than trying to take your loved one who has dementia to Christmas Eve services, read scripture and sing carols at home.

• Because a lot of noise and activity can increase confusion for a person with dementia, small, short gatherings throughout the holiday season might be better than one big party on Christmas Day.

• If you do have a large family gathering, have a quiet room available in which the person could rest away from the noise.

• Set holiday meal times early in the day as people with dementia get worn out as the day progresses.

• Help your loved one do Christmas shopping through a catalog rather than in noisy, crowded stores.

• If your loved one lives in a Care Center, it might be better to visit him/her there to share holiday festivities rather than to take the person out for a large party.

The Alzheimer’s Association gives a list of gift ideas for a person who has dementia. The gifts vary depending on a person’s interests and abilities.

• Taxi charge account for easy transportation

• CDs of special music

• Photo albums or homemade scrapbooks

• Safe Return identification bracelet through the Alzheimer’s Association

• Dolls or stuffed animals to hold and cuddle

• Simple craft items, large colorful blocks, large plastic or wooden beads for stringing

• A bulletin board to hold family photos or special mementos

• Gift certificates for a hair salon, pharmacy or grocery store

• Washable clothing with large zipper pulls or Velcro closures

• Stationery with stamped envelopes and pre-printed address labels

• A calendar with bright colorful photos, large numbers, and special dates noted

• Favorite foods

The best gift for any person with dementia is frequent visits from family and friends.