A woman is doing a jigsaw puzzle and pauses to listen to music and take in her surroundings, which are decorated for Christmas.

Holiday Matters: 3 Effective Ways to Enjoy the Holidays With Your Loved One

It's the most wonderful time of the year... or is it? The holidays and in fact any celebratory moment takes on a different type of energy when caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer’s is not just a cognitive decline in memory but also in character and in senses. Let’s say if once, your loved one with dementia was an outgoing extrovert, then perhaps now after their diagnosis, they are more reserved and introverted. My mom falls into that category.

Diagnosed with early-onset dementia in her late fifties, finding a new way to enjoy the holidays was proving to be a challenge for my mom. However, in time, I was able to find effective ways to celebrate with her. In this post, I am going to share with you the 3 most effective ways you can enjoy the holidays with your loved one with dementia.

What holidays looked like before Alzheimer's

Once a gregarious, charismatic woman, my mom did not own a shy bone in her body! She loved people and lived for the days to celebrate with them. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, you name it, they were all her thing. From baking cakes to hosting shindigs with lively music, my mom wanted nothing more than to celebrate and ensure everyone was having a good time.

However now, after her diagnosis, shame and anger moved in rather quickly. My mom was ashamed she was forgetting so rapidly and angry that it was becoming more noticeable every day. She fell into a depressive state and could no longer find her place in our celebratory moments. It was at this time that I discovered the power of pivoting.

What holidays look like after Alzheimer's

If you are familiar with basketball then you know that to pivot is to step with one foot while keeping the other foot at its point of contact with the floor. In other words, it's moving forward while still holding your place in the reality of your situation. For me, a full-time caregiver for my mom, this made complete sense. In spite of my mom having this cognitive disability (aka being in contact with the reality of the diagnosis), there were plenty of meaningful and exciting things she could still engage with (aka moving forward).

And moving forward we did! Keeping my mom's feelings of shame and anger in mind, I pivoted our holiday celebrations into experiences that would combat the negative feelings with positive feelings.

Here are 3 of the most effective ways I began to enjoy the holidays with my mom.

  1. Using music: My mom has always been a huge music buff, so deciding to create a playlist for her was a no brainer. As an added bonus, I created playlists that were implemented into the holiday activities she once enjoyed. Activities such as baking, wrapping gifts, and decorating the tree was now followed with a familiar holiday song and became the highlight of my mom's day. It also didn’t hurt that her mood was always pleasant.
  2. Using minimalism: Because Alzheimer’s also impairs vision and balance, sticking to a minimal aesthetic is a great and safe way to keep the space in your home festive. A few tips on minimalistic holiday decor we used were:
    • Decorating with 2 main colors, your loved one's favorite color and the holiday/event color. For mom this was fun because her favorite color is red, so during Thanksgiving and Christmas, the decor revolved around that color. Adding small touches of the main colors into everyday practicalities such as a red pillow cover, red throw blanket, or red flowers at the table are great ways to include minimal holiday decor.
    • Having a wall-mounted Christmas tree or a pre-lit half Christmas tree.
  3. Using motifs: For seasonal and holiday activities, I chose to create my moms daily routine with a holiday theme. For many loved ones, the sense of time and their own environment is lost so using a motif around the season or the event can be a huge game-changer with controlling confusion. Some motifs I used included:
    • Wearing clothes in holiday colors such as red and mustard yellow
    • Using themed coloring books, puzzles, and movies
    • Having seasonal scents in your diffuser or seasonal flavors in meals

Instead of sudden moments of rage, paranoia, or confusion, my mom was happy and excited. After all the time spent pivoting and trying to find a way for us to enjoy the celebrations, her new positive attitude towards the holidays is what mattered most.

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