The Dilemma of Holidays

June-2014-CalendarEaster ~ Mother’s Day ~ Memorial Day ~ Father’s Day ~ Birthdays ~ Anniversaries…….  And then there’s Ramadan, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah…
And the list goes on. What do we do about Mum or Nana or Uncle Bill on holidays?

There’s no simple answer to this question. Families must look at their loved one’s situation, at that moment in time, and decide what is best for their loved one, NOT the family members who might be visiting or attending a holiday event. Here are some things to think about as you make your decision.

  • How many friends and relatives will be at your holiday party?   Large groups tend to overwhelm someone with dementia. The further along one is in the disease process, the more confusing a large party will be.
  • How long will the festivities last?   Some PWD (Person/s with dementia) can handle 2-3 hours in this “new” environment, some may only be able to handle 30 minutes.
  • Will it feel like chaos to a PWD?   “Active” little children, loud music and loud voices might be too much for Mum to handle. How would you feel if you had a migraine in the middle of this setting? When Mum can’t process what is happening around her, she may become agitated and disruptive. It’s understandable.
  • Guests:  Prepare your guests (adults and children) to let them know that Uncle Bill will be attending. Encourage them to identify themselves…”Hi Uncle Bill, its Charlie. I’m Irene’s son.”
  • What if Nana insists on wearing her pajama top?   It’s OK. Your friends and relatives should be aware of Nana’s situation and be willing to roll with whatever happens with her that day. If they are uncomfortable about potential situations, perhaps they shouldn’t be invited.
  • But Mum’s favorite food is hot dogs.  If that’s the case, Mum doesn’t have to eat turkey on Thanksgiving, she can have her favorite food. The most important thing, if you’re inviting Mum, is that she is comfortable and will join the family during the meal.
  • But Uncle Bill can’t use utensils any longer.  Finger food is a must for someone who is no longer able to use a knife and fork. If you’re having a picnic, there are lots of options for finger food. If it is a more formal dinner, offer Uncle Bill fresh carrots instead of cooked carrots, soup in a mug or bite sized rolls instead of a dinner roll. Is there any reason why all the guests can’t have their soup in a mug?
  • Should Nana stay at her assisted living community?   This may really be the answer for holidays. Family can stop by for coffee during breakfast or a 10:00 morning break. If it’s a major holiday, the facility will be having its own celebration. And that may be the best place for Uncle Bill or Nana to be during the holidays. After all, the community is familiar, the daily routines aren’t interrupted and your loved one can take a nap whenever he or she wants.
  • I know Mum will physically have trouble getting into the car.   There’s a simple answer…she should stay with her community. If she is at home, you might hire a companion for the day to stay with her or family members might take turns sharing that responsibility.

There is no clear answer to the question of whether your loved one should be with you during the holidays, or whether you should be with your loved one during the holidays. The most important decision should be based on what is best for your loved one who has dementia. It doesn’t matter what the family tradition has always been or that you think your Mum will be disappointed if she doesn’t see her second cousin (who she probably won’t remember). Life and traditions are changing and Mum’s needs now come first.

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