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Making Spirits Bright: Engaging Loved Ones with Memory Loss During the Holidays

Every holiday season, the familiar sights and sounds can bring back memories of holidays past. And for family members suffering from memory loss, traditions during the holidays are a link to reviving their memories.

Some traditions will need to be adapted to accommodate our loved one’s memory loss issues, to make sure they can be enjoyed by all celebrating.

With a little extra planning and preparation, holiday celebrations and traditions can be preserved for loved ones with memory loss. 

Preparing the Family

If this is the first holiday season that your loved one is experiencing with new memory loss, kindly explain to family members and friends before the holiday celebrations that their loved one won’t be acting like their usual self. 

This year, chances are that many family members haven’t been in as close of contact as usual. Some family and friends may be unaware of the changes in their loved one’s personality and needs due to memory loss.

Interacting with a family member experiencing new memory loss from Alzheimer’s or dementia can be emotionally difficult, especially if the family member doesn’t remember names. Explain to younger children and relatives that memory loss isn’t intentional, but is the result of a disease. Also take this chance to explain what your senior loved one needs and will enjoy most this holiday season.

Bringing your family and friends up to speed on their loved one’s condition can help minimize confusion or conflict before it arises.

Limiting the Number of Guests Present

Having a large and crowded holiday party can be over-stimulating for a family member experiencing memory loss. Try limiting the amount of people in contact with your loved one, whether it’s in person, over the phone, or online. Consider holding small in-person or virtual dinner parties so that each family can spend individual, quality time with your senior loved one.

Preparing Your Loved One with Memory Loss for Holidays

Help prepare your loved one’s memory before the celebrations begin. Talk to them about which family members will be visiting with them, and try to include pictures so that they can place faces with names. 

Remembering several grandchildrens’ names can be challenging, especially since they grow up so fast. Consider creating a photo album of the grandchildren with names and keep it near your loved one as a reference.

Having family members call on a regular basis may also help your loved one to continue to re-familiarize themselves with their family, making it easier to recognize them during special occasions such as holidays.

Preparing the House for the Holidays

Make it as easy as possible for your senior loved one to recognize their home and to feel comfortable. This may mean toning down decorations.

Busy environments filled with bright lights and various decorations can both overstimulate your loved one and confuse them. Try to keep holiday decorations simple, with a focus on what is most meaningful to your senior loved one.

Also avoid dangers such as tripping hazards or lit candles. Keep walkways clear of clutter and decorations to minimize fall risk. 

Shared Activities to Revive Seniors’ Memories

Engage your loved one in multi-sensory activities to spark their memories. Multi-sensory activities have been shown to benefit the emotional and physical health of those experiencing memory loss.

Consider engaging your loved one in the below multi-sensory activities. 

Listen to Familiar Holiday Music 

The power of music is astounding. Musical memories are often untouched from memory loss because these areas in the brain are relatively undamaged from brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. So put on a favorite holiday record and reminisce with your loved one about holidays past.

Bake Cookies

Much like music, the familiar scents of cookies and baked goods don’t fade away. Smelling the aroma of cookies baking can unlock cherished memories in your loved one’s mind.

Decorate the House 

Giving your loved one a simple, tactile task can engage and enrich their mind. Brain pathways are stimulated when handling objects because of the numerous nerve receptors in our fingertips. 

Have them help you decorate the house. Have them inspect ornaments you’re putting up, or have them draw holiday scenes. Remember to avoid frustrating activities, such as sorting through string lights, which can become confusing or overwhelming.  

Watch Holiday Movies 

Movies are great memory boosters because they contain both auditory and visual information. Pick a movie you’ve watched a hundred times before with your loved one. The familiarity of watching a favorite movie, combined with the music and visuals are likely to spark your loved one’s memory and keep them engaged.

Look Through Old Family Albums or Watch Family Videos

Browsing through old family photos is likely to tap into your loved one’s emotions and memories. Be attentive as they browse photos or watch old movies to gauge their reactions. If you notice they become more interested in certain photos or videos, ask them to tell you the story behind that particular moment.

Be careful not to ask too many questions so they don’t feel overwhelmed and to be patient as they recall and recount their memories.

Eat Familiar Favorite Meals

Eating a home-cooked meal is the ultimate multi-sensory experience for your loved one, as it combines all senses. Have your loved one sit with you at the table. Encourage any other family members to speak softly and slowly at the dinner table, giving your senior loved one a comfortable and relaxed environment to enjoy.

The Kensington Promise

By putting extra time and consideration into planning holiday activities, you can ensure greater success in providing your loved one with a happy and memorable holiday experience this season.

At The Kensington, we provide enriching activities that engage our residents’ minds and spirits. Our facilities offer a safe and friendly environment for seniors to thrive and participate in an active social life vital to their health and well being.

Interested in learning more about The Kensington? Please reach out for additional information regarding our community and memory care programs.

Photo by Lydia Matzal on Unsplash

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