Adapting Holiday Traditions for Seniors with Memory Loss

Adapting Holiday Traditions

The holiday seasons are often full of excitement, nostalgia and good cheer. Family may come to visit or you may travel to see them. The home may be full of wonderful scents and holiday movies or festive music may be playing. It’s truly a wonderful time of year for those of all ages; however, for those with memory loss, the holidays can mean something else entirely.

According to Sue Sunderland, Executive Director at The Bridges at Warwick, a senior living community in Jamison, PA, seniors with memory loss may not be as excited for the holidays as others are. “When it comes to memory loss and the holidays, it can be unpredictable. It’s possible that those with memory loss may dread all the fuss and excitement, or it’s also possible they may light up as a result of increased activity,” says Sue. “Depending on the extent of a loved one’s memory loss, it may be necessary to adapt and alter and holiday plans, traditions or experiences in order to make the senior with memory loss more comfortable.

“The holidays can also affect the caregiver in a multitude of ways,” adds Sue. “You may be used to certain holiday traditions, especially if your loved one with memory loss was usually the head of the tradition, but it’s important to adjust your expectations when it comes to the holidays. Your loved one may no longer be able to do the things they once loved to do, they may no longer remember the traditions, or they may not even want to partake in the holiday celebrations. Memory loss is different for everyone, and it’s important to be prepared for each different outcome.”

As the holiday season approaches, caregivers may wonder how to best prepare their loved one, how to make the holiday season special, and how to maintain holiday traditions with their loved one with memory loss. Fortunately, through all stages of memory loss, there are ways to include and involve seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

Understand How Your Loved One Is Feeling

As a caregiver, it’s common to face many challenges when a loved one has memory loss. During the holidays, it can be even more difficult as emotions run high, schedules can become hectic, travel can become difficult, and your loved one may act out. While this can be stressful, it’s important to realize that your loved one has very little control over their emotions, so it is important to be understanding. Consider how your loved one feels. Common feelings include:

  • Discomfort and stress. It’s not uncommon for those with memory loss to feel stressed and uncomfortable when the holidays come around. This can be because of the rush of people or change in routine.

  • Embarrassment or anxiety. Your loved one with memory loss may be embarrassed about their memory loss and not want other loved ones to notice or see them this way.

  • Agitation and irritation. Loud noises, excitement and overstimulation from activities, guests and typical holiday hustle and bustle can cause your loved one with memory loss to act out or wander.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to manage your loved one's emotions, from maintaining routines as much as possible and keeping an open mind to lowering your expectations and being patient.

How to Maintain Holiday Traditions, Even with Memory Loss

While it may seem difficult, especially in the midst of the holiday season, adapting activities and maintaining traditions is not as hard as it seems. Try some of the following tips.

  • Limit the number of guests. Because big groups of people may cause your loved one stress and confusion, try to limit the amount of people you invite over for the holidays. Try having a few people over at a time with plenty of rest between visits. Tailor the number of guests to what your loved one can handle.

  • Adapt traditions accordingly. If you and your loved one listened to holiday music while decorating or wrapping presents, play those songs while doing these activities. If you were used to drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies while watching holiday movies, keep doing so. If certain traditions don’t need changed or adapted, why change them? Just watch how your loved one reacts and notice any signs that they are becoming tired or agitated, as then it may be best to take a break or adapt.

  • Find ways to include your loved one. If your loved one used to love cooking for holidays and can no longer do so, have them set the table instead. If they loved to bake cookies but are at risk of burning themselves, ask them to decorate the cookies once they have cooled, as this can help them feel involved and also serve as a form of art therapy.

  • Make decorating safer and easier. If your loved one gets agitated as a result of too many decorations, try to limit the amount used. If they are not overwhelmed by decorations or bright lights, try to involve them in decorating. Use decorations that remind them of family and try to use only decorations that are unbreakable. Refrain from moving furniture to accommodate decorations, as this could cause confusion.

  • Make sure loved ones get the right gifts. When doing a gift exchange, make sure family and friends know they may have to adapt what they would usually get your loved one. For example, items that can bring up memories, such as photo albums, pictures and CDs can help them to recall their past and help them to reminisce.

“If your tradition is generally to travel during the holidays, try to keep it as limited as possible,” says Sue. “If you must travel and know your loved one will have a difficult time, be sure to keep to the schedule your loved one is used to, pack their comfort items and be sure to plan out certain times for rest. It’s also a good practice to let your host know about your loved one’s memory loss and to let them know what they may need to alter. If they are unable to alter what’s needed, it may be best to stay home and start a brand new tradition with your loved one.”

Activity. Friendship. Support. Convenience. Value.

You’ll find it all at The Bridges at Warwick, located in beautiful Bucks County, where everyday is a celebration of seniors. Our philosophy of “Celebrating Life” means that our residents enjoy a sense of purpose and contentment along with fun, personalized care and a focus on total well-being.

Our Personalized Supportive Care provides just the right amount of assistance to help you remain independent, along with life-enriching programs, services and amenities. Our exclusive Vista Transitional Living Program offers specialized programming our supportive care residents who have memory challenges but do not yet require a secure residence. For those whose memory loss is more advanced, we offer The Vista, our secure, comprehensive memory care residence.

In keeping with our founder Robert Basile’s personal philosophy, developed during his efforts to find quality senior living for his beloved father, senior adults remain our passion. We fill our residents’ lives with countless opportunities to engage with both new and treasured friends; events and programs to enjoy with family members and loved ones; as well as innovative and creative activities that foster engagement. Our dedication to total wellness – for mind, body and spirit – is woven into our culture every day.

Contact us today or call 215.269.7745 for more information or to arrange a personal tour.

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