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The holidays can be challenging for those with dementia. Here's how to help

grandparent making the christmas tree
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The unfamiliar can be stressful for those with dementia, so one suggestion is to have older relatives with memory loss help with decorating.

The pressure to make the holidays special can be a stressful experience for everyone, but for people with dementia and their caregivers, this time of year can be particularly challenging.

Something as simple as a change in routine or being around too many unfamiliar faces can cause confusion and added stress for someone with dementia, the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Cincinnati says.

To try and ease this stress, the local chapter recently hosted a virtual education program to help caregivers and families navigate the holidays.

Annemarie Barnett of the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Cincinnati says it's normal to be stressed this time of year. Still, there are ways to help reduce confusion for loved ones with dementia and make the holidays more enjoyable for the whole family.

Barnett points out that change can be unsettling for someone suffering from dementia, so unfamiliar holiday decorations and large gatherings can cause problems. To help with this, she suggests having older relatives with memory loss help with decorating and attending smaller celebrations with close family, if possible.

"It's really about planning and doing your best to make sure that those disruptions become minimal, and really talking to the people coming to your house or wherever you're going to make sure that they're understanding the situation," Barnett said.

A slower holiday with small gatherings doesn't mean there can't still be plenty of fun. Asking older family members about their favorite holiday traditions from childhood and recreating them can be soothing, and bring back fond memories from the past.

"If they're used to seeing Christmas lights, it's OK to get them in the car and drive them around for Christmas lights," Barnett said. "Those traditions are usually in their memory and they can kind of start feeling like, 'OK, this is familiar to me.' "

Barnett says it's also important for caregivers to take care of their own mental well-being during this time of year and give themselves some time to do something they enjoy on their own. During this busy time, caregivers can ask family or people they trust to help take care of a loved one while they're away.

For more information on navigating the holidays, visit the Alzheimer's Association of Great Cincinnati's website or for information and assistance call 800-272-3900.

Updated: December 16, 2022 at 3:09 PM EST
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Zack Carreon earned his bachelor's degree in media production from Bowling Green State University. Before joining Cincinnati Public Radio, he was a content editor and photojournalist at WTOL 11 News in Toledo. Zack enjoys long hikes, collecting vinyl records, and watching his hometown team the Cleveland Browns.