5 Tips for Holiday Visits
Holidays shouldn’t stop just because of a dementia diagnosis! If you’re visiting a close friend or family member with memory loss, the holidays can be poignant, awkward, funny, and everything else. Here are a couple of ideas to help ensure they are also a positive and joy-filled experience!
1. Bring Familiar Items
Photographs, jewelry, sports memorabilia, yearbooks, or other personal items can spark long term memories or at least break the ice. When visiting someone with memory loss, using a “prop” can help get the conversation going. Even if the person doesn’t remember the item, they will likely enjoy seeing it.
2. Converse, don’t ask, “Do you remember?”
It can be hard not to try to jog the memory of someone with dementia. (For example, “Remember when you taught me how to make cookies? We wore those special aprons …”) Speak in general terms instead of posing direct questions or asking people to recall specific facts. You might tell them you recently make homemade sugar cookies with a friend. You could describe the decorations and smells of the kitchen to get the conversation going.
3. Short and Sweet Visits
Having a large group of unexpected visitors might be overstimulating to someone with memory loss. At least at first, have a few people visit at a time. Stay calm and low-key so your excitement doesn’t produce anxiety. Give the person you’re visiting some time to get used to your presence, and gradually become more animated or invite others to join you. Keep visits to about half an hour unless it’s clear the person is having a good time. You might leave for a little while, let the person have time to rest or use the restroom privately, and then come back for another short visit.
When visiting someone at a care facility, avoid visiting when the person gets medical treatment or takes a shower. If you ask a staff member, they can tell you the best arrival time. They will also appreciate that you’re showing respect for the schedules and routines that are in place.
It is also good to ask when the individual is more likely to be having a good moment for visitors (i.e. in the morning as they are more engaged and alert)
4. Show Affection
Sometimes, simple gestures mean the most. Hugs, smiles, or a friendly handshake can offer comfort and familiarity, even when words fail. Nonverbal cues like a warm smile and calm tone of voice may make a larger impact than your words. Even if your loved one doesn’t know your name or can’t place who you are, they will likely connect with your warmth. Just your presence can offer a meaningful connection to someone with memory loss. Even if they don’t remember the visit perfectly, they will carry the feeling it gave them in their heart.
5. Try an Activity
There are likely games, movies, puzzles, coloring materials, etc., at the community you’re visiting. Activity staff are a great resource because they will know what activities your loved one enjoys. Having purpose can help you both engage instead of trying to find words to converse. Simple tasks can lead to great conversations and moments of joy.
If you are at someone’s home, you can look at photo albums or holiday decorations. They may be able to share stories about those things that you didn’t even know.
Overall, you really want to experience the holidays where the individual with dementia is most comfortable. This may be something as simple as visiting their memory community and just hanging an ornament, or keeping a quiet space for them at a family party if they get overwhelmed. Meeting them where they are most comfortable will help keep the holiday season more joyful for everyone!
Activities & Engagement
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