The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Making Holidays Fun

The holidays can be a difficult time for anyone with dementia. Change is scary and so as home d├ęcor changes, it adds tension instead of peace. Visits from family and friends can be overwhelming and tiring. For someone with Lewy’s sound and vision sensitivities, it can be even more difficult. Bright tree lights may be painful instead of fun. Loud music may be more stressful than enjoyable.

This doesn’t mean you should not celebrate nor that family and friends shouldn’t visit. Here are some tips to make your holiday season more enjoyable.

Strange places and too many people are both stressful. Therefore, forgo parties and large dinners that include your loved one. Instead, encourage family and friends to come visit—a few at a time.

Time visits for when your loved one is most alert. It is common for them to display “Showtime” (be unusually alert) with family, especially with those they do not see all the time. Enjoy this but expect them to crash and be very tired afterwards. Showtime is hard work!

Utilize respite care or adult day care to give you some free time for errands. If you do take your loved one out on an outing, plan ahead, avoid crowds, make sure it is something well loved, and don’t be gone a long time.

Play soft, soothing holiday music. Music has a different path to the brain and people can remember it when they can’t remember other things. Remember that music played too loud may be distracting and stressful.

Variety and change are no longer fun; sameness feels much safer and more comfortable. Therefore, don’t overdo the decorating. Keep your home looking and feeling familiar.

Get your loved one involved in the holiday preparations. Repetitious activities that are tedious for others are soothing for someone with cognitive impairment and can stroke feelings of accomplishment and pride. Enlist the help of older grandchildren and make this a family activity.

String garlands. All that’s needed is a long heavy thread and a darning needle. Try stringing cranberries, popcorn, even O-shaped cereal (Fruit Loops are cheerfully colorful). Extend the enjoyment by hanging edible garlands outside a window to attract birds.

Make paper chains. This takes some dexterity. It may be that a child can supervise while your loved one helps as able. Use construction paper, or even heavy foil wrapping paper.

Make pomanders. (aromatic balls) Stick cloves into oranges. These make lovely hangings or bowl displays and their scent may evoke calming, happy memories. Again, these require a little dexterity, but not much. Remember to throw them away after the holidays.

Crack nuts. Put your loved one to work with an old-fashioned nutcracker and a big bowl of walnuts, pecans and Brazil nuts. The ability to separate nuts from shells will depend on how much sequential ability is left. This may be another chore best done with a grandchild.

And finally, give yourself the challenge of matching the tempo of your loved one. Release some of that holiday generated stress by slowing down. Think about all the things you can leave undone instead of all those that need to be done.

Thanks to for many of these ideas.

Read A Caregiver's Guide for Lewy Body Dementia for more help with Lewy body dementia. Find it at

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