“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” – or so the song goes. But for those of us caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the holidays can be especially stressful. We put so much stock in our own holiday traditions that when those shared experiences don’t measure up, it can lead to feelings of failure, frustration, and sadness.
Among the hardest realities is coming to grips with the fact that the holidays can no longer be the same. Expecting someone with brain changes to remember and participate in traditions because “that’s what we’ve always done” is a recipe for disaster. Although traditions are intrinsically tied to our memories, acting as if things are the same will only set the stage for disappointment.
It is okay to mourn the loss of holidays past, but you can also lay the foundation for happy holidays ahead! Dementia Care Expert Teepa Snow says that we tend to focus on what’s missing, instead of what’s left. It’s understandable to want the old days back. “One of the important things about holidays is to set the tone – to decide. ‘Yes, I’m going to grieve the loss, but I’m going to get over that and I’m going to try something different. I’m going to decide what can give us joy in these moments. What can we do together, and what do we need to do apart? What do I need out of this holiday, and what do they need out of this holiday?’”
Think about the things that are most important to you both and focus there. Don’t waste energy on experiences that no longer matter in the big picture. Instead, put effort into staging a few new special moments. Music, cooking, and photos are all great places to start. Music can be transformative for our loved ones, breaking through the fog of dementia with a favorite holiday tune. Cooking, especially the familiar scents of the kitchen, can also unlock treasured memories – break out a favorite family recipe! And reminiscing is always an enjoyable, quiet activity that you can share together anywhere, any time – look through old holiday photos or mementos from scrapbooks or snap a few to save on your cell phone for the next time you visit. You might be pleasantly surprised at the joy it evokes! Most of all, just enjoy your time together right now. After all, dementia demands that we live in the moment. We are never promised more than this moment, so let’s make the most of it.