For many people, the holidays are a joyful time of year. But for people with dementia, their families, and their caregivers, the holidays can pose special challenges. How can family members and home caregivers ensure that seniors with Alzheimer's or similar conditions feel loved and included during the holiday season?
Dementia is a catch-all term for diseases of the brain that impair memory, decision-making skills, and language skills. It is progressive, meaning that it can get worse over time, but not better. People with this condition may have difficulty taking care of everyday chores, having conversations, and remembering things that recently happened. This can be frustrating, confusing, or frightening for a senior living with this condition.
It can be tricky to navigate holiday preparations and family get-togethers when a family member or loved one has Alzheimer's or dementia. Luckily, there are a wide variety of holiday activities that can help boost cognitive function and ease dementia symptoms. While there's no way to cure dementia yet, people with this condition often respond well to certain activities, like exercise, crafts, and listening to music. In addition to mental stimulation, these activities help to provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which can make a big difference in a person's quality of life.
Whether you work in home care services or you have a family member with cognitive impairment, you can help the senior in your life enjoy the holidays with these seven simple, mentally-stimulating activities.
1. Listen to holiday music.
Music is a great form of therapy for seniors who are living with cognitive impairment. For many people, music is closely linked to memories and emotions. Seniors who have trouble remembering what they did earlier in the day may still remember all the words to their favorite holiday songs perfectly.
Look for holiday music that seniors already know and like. It may be better to put on a "golden oldies" album than an album that just came out last year. Some seniors might also enjoy singing their favorite holiday songs with other people.
2. Make festive crafts.
Creativity can be very therapeutic for people with dementia. All kinds of creative work — from drawing and painting to dancing and making music — help people get in touch with their inner selves and communicate their feelings. Creative activities also improve cognitive function. Making holiday art projects and crafts is a wonderful way for seniors to get the benefits of being creative. A few craft ideas include:
Making pomanders with oranges and cloves
Making and sending Christmas cards
Drawing or painting wintry scenes
Making garlands to decorate the house or Christmas tree
Knitting or crocheting scarves, mittens, or hats
Projects should be simple enough that seniors can do them without getting frustrated. A home caregiver can help seniors choose and complete their projects.
3. Watch classic holiday movies.
Like music, holiday movies can bring back fond memories of past years. Seniors living with cognitive impairment may enjoy getting together with family members or friends to watch classics like A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life.
This is also an easy activity to do with seniors who have mobility impairments. If a senior with dementia is attending a family function, having one of their favorite holiday movies playing in a quiet room offers a nice holiday respite when the activities get too overwhelming.
4. Cook or bake some seasonal treats.
From pumpkin pie to Christmas cookies, there's a holiday treat out there to suit everyone's tastes. Seniors with cognitive impairment may enjoy the nostalgia of whipping up a batch of a favorite holiday food in the kitchen. Cookies are always a good bet, especially cutouts — they're simple to make and fun to decorate. For seniors who have difficulty following recipes and cooking safely by themselves, home care services can be a big help.
5. Reminisce about past holidays.
In their early stages, Alzheimer's disease and other forms of cognitive decline tend to cause mostly short-term memory loss. A person with cognitive decline might be able to remember past holidays clearly, even if they struggle to remember recent events. Reminiscing about years gone by can be a great way to help a senior relive happy memories and get into the holiday spirit. Props like photo albums and old Christmas cards can be very helpful for stimulating memories.
6. Decorate the house.
A cozy, decorated house is a great way to create a feeling of holiday cheer. Seniors, kids, and everyone in between can enjoy decking the halls. This is a great way to display all those handmade holiday crafts!
For seniors with cognitive impairment, it's important to take a few extra safety precautions while decorating. Here's what to look out for:
Use unbreakable ornaments on the tree, instead of ornaments that might shatter.
Choose lights that don't blink or flash. These can be confusing or disorienting.
Keep the floor clear and uncluttered so seniors don't trip on decorations.
Avoid displaying any decorations that look like food. Seniors with cognitive impairment may mistakenly try to eat a decoration that looks like fruit, for instance.
Avoid life-sized decorations or decorations that move. These can be scary for a person with cognitive impairment.
Use fake candles instead of ones with real flames. There are even menorahs that come with electric lights instead of traditional candles.
7. Take a winter walk.
If the weather is sunny and the temperatures aren't too cold, why not bundle up and go for a walk this holiday season? Many seniors will enjoy taking a stroll with a family member or home caregiver to admire holiday decorations. For seniors who aren't prone to getting overwhelmed, window-shopping at the mall or along the street can also be a fun way to get out of the house.
Home Care Services for Seniors with Dementia
Dementia doesn't have to prevent the senior you love from enjoying the holidays. In fact, holiday activities can help improve seniors' cognitive function, and the benefits can last well into the new year. Home care services can be an especially big help for seniors with dementia and their families during the holidays. A home caregiver can help your loved one stay busy and happy with these activities all season long.