Extendicare Riverside Place

Alzheimer’s and dementia: How to plan a holiday visit with your loved one

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Visiting a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia during the holidays is an important time for family and friends to connect. While celebrations together are meaningful, they can also be challenging for the person who has dementia, as well as caregivers.

This may be a result of the changes to an individual’s memory or ability. The visit itself may be stressful as large groups of people and many noises or sounds can be overwhelming.

“Alzheimer’s disease and dementia impact a person’s thinking and memory,” says Karen Simpson, Manager of Behavioural Supports and Dementia Care at Extendicare. “It is a gradual and progressive decline in mental processing ability that affects memory, communication, language, judgement, reasoning, and abstract thinking.”

Karen shares some tips for planning a holiday visit with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or dementia, living in a long-term care home, and how to make the most of your time together over the holidays and any time of the year.

Plan holiday visits in advance

Routine is an important part of care for a resident with dementia who is living in a long-term care home. When planning a visit during the holidays, try to find a time that works well with your loved one’s schedule in their daily routine with team members at their long-term care home.

“Residents may have activities that are part of their daily routine,” says Karen. “When residents are removed from an activity they really enjoy doing, this can be stressful for the resident. Planning a visit outside of that activity lets the resident have that time for themselves. It can also pave the way for a more enjoyable family visit that is centered around the resident.”

She adds that the team members at the long-term care home provide programming that is fun but also beneficial to residents’ brain health.

“Every opportunity that we have that sparks some cognitive stimulation or social connectivity is important to optimize,” Karen explains.

Involve a loved one with dementia in planning a holiday visit

Karen encourages friends and families to speak with their loved one about what they enjoy and if there are activities they can do together.

“This involvement can help residents’ who are living with dementia experience that connection with their family,” says Karen.

Consider activities that everyone can do together.

“Ask the activity aides what programs are taking place,” says Karen. “Find out if you can get involved and join the activity with your loved one.”

Take your time

When friends and family gather to visit their loved one, be patient and take time to do things together such as singing songs, watching family videos, or looking at old photos.

Experts say that holiday celebrations may bring up memories and the individual living with dementia may be focused on having a conversation about the past. They say it is okay to talk about what is meaningful to the person living with dementia. You don’t have to rush your conversation to bring them to present day.

“It’s about spending quality time together,” says Karen. “Being together and involving your loved one with dementia in the process, can make for a meaningful visit and important connections for both the resident and family during the holidays and all year round.”