Celebrating Special Occasions When A Loved One Has Dementia

Celebrating the holidays with someone who has dementia can be challenging, unique and a little unexpected. Many caregivers wonder if celebrating special occasions with loved ones battling dementia is even necessary. Will your loved one even notice if Christmas passes by and you don’t do anything? While it’s understandable to ask questions like these, it’s generally better to focus on how you can use each holiday as an opportunity to bring happiness and a sense of normalcy to your loved one’s life.

How Holidays Might Look to Someone With Dementia

For the approximately 50 million people worldwide who have dementia, most days tend to look the same. But when holidays arrive, it provides an opportunity to change things up a little and incorporate some lightheartedness into everyday life’s monotony.

Keep in mind that celebrating special occasions with a loved one that has dementia can look and feel different than you’re used to. Depending on the severity of your loved one’s case, they may not even seem to be mentally present during the celebration. Even if that’s the reality of your situation, celebrating holidays can still bring a sense of purpose and nostalgia to your own life. Even small celebrations are worth having and can add interest and meaning to life.

What To Do When Your Loved One Thinks It’s Christmas in October

Dealing with dementia can be unpredictable, especially around the holidays. While it’s clear to you that you’re celebrating Halloween, your loved one may be convinced that it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. Though it can be disconcerting for you to celebrate a holiday at the wrong time, try to let go of norms. It’s generally better to make sure your loved one enjoys the occasion than to make sure everything about it is “correct.”

So if Mom wants to get out the Christmas wreath in July, roll with the punches. Focus on making the holiday fun for her, even if it’s the “wrong” holiday. Just be glad she is in a place where she can celebrate a holiday and enjoy the moment. Use the opportunity as a way to make new memories with her.

When It Comes To Birthdays, Don’t Get Hung Up On Age

It can be a little embarrassing when you’re celebrating dad’s 80th birthday and he insists he’s turning 60. But it’s important not to get hung up on the details when you’re celebrating birthdays with someone who has dementia. Instead, have fun and join in on the celebration.

In fact, insisting that your dad is 80 could potentially lead to some difficult moments. For example, if he genuinely thinks he’s 60 and he sees the number 80 on his cake, he is more likely to become upset that you got his age wrong.

To make sure birthdays go as smoothly as possible, try doing these things:

  • Find out before the party how old your dad thinks he is. That way, you can get the appropriate number of candles for him and prepare any family and friends to congratulate him on his “correct” age.
  • If your mom has no idea how old she is, do away with numbers altogether. Instruct any party attendees to wish her a “happy birthday” without mentioning age at all.
  • Never argue with your loved one about age. It’s not worth it and can ruin the entire celebration by causing mom or dad to become upset and confused.

One more important note about birthdays: don’t set unrealistic expectations for your mom or dad to perform a certain way. Dad might have no idea you’re celebrating his birthday, or mom may get distracted by her favorite television show and step away from the party. Whatever happens, try to be flexible and enjoy the occasion anyway. It’s still an opportunity for kids and grandkids to enjoy the time they get with their loved one’s life.

Change Your Holiday Goals

Celebrating with dementia can feel different, but you can make the most of every holiday you spend with your loved one by changing your goals. Instead of focusing on celebrating the holiday “correctly,” put your efforts toward making sure your loved one has a good time. Whether that means playing Christmas music on St. Patrick’s Day or spending a few hours on Christmas quietly comforting your mom or dad while they sit on the bed, the primary goal should be to make your loved one feel important and supported.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

If it’s becoming too challenging to give your loved one the type of care they need and deserve, it may be time to consider a safe, alternative place where they can live. Caring Places Management is committed to providing exceptional care to seniors. We’d love to care for your loved ones, so you have more to give him or her during the holidays and every other day.

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