Dorothy and Peter Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program participants enjoy a holiday party.

The Brown Program provides insight on how to keep joy in the holidays when your loved one has dementia.

Featured photo courtesy of CKC Media

By Graham Sayre, Special to the Jewish News

While the holidays can be times of great magic and meaning, for those caring for loved ones living with dementia there are undoubtedly some struggles. With some extra care and planning, however, both care partners and those affected by the condition, can enjoy special days during the holiday period.

Plan ahead. Discuss holiday plans with family and friends. Consider smaller gatherings earlier in the day, if possible, with a regular sleep schedule. Naps can be helpful for all.

Set limits. It’s OK to say no to a gathering if it will be too stressful for you or your loved one living with dementia. Focus on holiday traditions that you enjoy the most.

Ask for help. If you are having company in your own home, have someone to help engage your loved one while you are in the kitchen or entertaining guests. Friends and family often want to help so say “yes, please” to the dishes or laundry being done. You can also enlist friends or family to stay with your loved one if you want to attend a gathering that wouldn’t be a good fit for them.

Engage your loved one living with dementia in the planning of holiday gatherings. Assign a simple task to do like setting the table, washing the vegetables or folding the napkins. When people are purposefully occupied, they feel good about themselves.

Help your guests engage with your loved one. Remind family members that although your loved one may not remember his name, everyone likes a warm greeting and a friendly smile. Don’t ask, “Do you remember me?” or “Who am I?” Instead, make fun family nametags for your gathering. Familiar music and family photo albums are great conversation starters. Talking about shared memories of the past are a great way to connect. A family singalong with familiar tunes is a great way to involve your loved one.

Encourage “smart” gift giving. Practical gifts for people living with dementia might include comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing, CDs of favorite music or a favorite food. Another idea might be a contribution to a respite fund for the care partner and person living with dementia.

Take it easy. Remember that the holidays are meant to be enjoyable. That means different things to different people, so trust your instincts and enjoy on your own terms.

Expert help is available. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be exhausting and stressful and it may be that you need more resources than a listening ear. Feel free to call a social worker at the Dorothy and Peter Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program, which offers families a professional partner in caregiving, including day programs and support groups for care partners.

The Brown Program is a partnership of Jewish Senior Life and JVS Human Services with locations in West Bloomfield (248-592-5032) and Southfield (248-233-4392).

Graham Sayre is director of the Dorothy and Peter Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program.

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