Spending the holidays and celebrating good times with family is one of the many things about life that warm our hearts. When memory loss is affecting a loved one, there is still an opportunity to make the day special.
Take, for example, the first anniversary after a mother has passed away. A devoted daughter calls her dad. While he was delighted to hear from her, after they exchanged pleasantries, he asked, “Why are you calling today?”
She responded, “Well, it’s your first anniversary without her (they had been married for more than 60 years) and I thought you might be feeling sad and want to talk.”
This unleashed the floodgates. Her father said, “Oh, darling, there’s not a moment that goes by that I don’t miss your mother.” He went on to share some memories, and his daughter was very glad she’d honored their long union with a phone call, even though her parents were no longer celebrating their anniversary together.
Memories Are Forever
In this same light, when your loved one has memory loss, it’s still important to acknowledge holidays and other special occasions, whether or not the people involved are fully capable of being immersed in the celebration. They may have a sense that something important is happening, or the celebration itself may trigger remnants of memory.
Here are eight tips to create a happier holiday for someone with memory loss:
- Prepare people ahead of time. Family members, friends and others who will gather with you at holiday time need to be aware that their loved one has changed since they last saw him or her. Explain the basics behind memory loss, and encourage your guests to treat the person experiencing memory loss with patience and respect.
- Host a smaller gathering. You may want to host a large gathering at home as you’ve always done. However, a smaller group will be less stressful for a senior with memory loss. Loud noises and overstimulation from activities, guests and typical holiday hustle and bustle can cause agitation and distress.
- Consider celebrating in a memory-conducive setting. And you may wish to hold this small gathering (or several small gatherings, over a period of a week or more) at a place such as Famille at The Kensington, a memory café that provides Kensington residents, family, friends, and the broader Falls Church community with an opportunity to meet, mingle, and give and receive emotional support in a welcoming setting.
- Plan familiar holiday activities. Are there certain songs you always sing at holiday time? Even if your loved one no longer remembers the lyrics, just hearing these familiar tunes can be a wonderful memory booster. According to music therapists, music can help those with memory loss reconnect with themselves, enabling them to better engage with the world around them.
- Choose memory-stimulating gifts. Your loved one may not need another scarf or shirt, but a digital photo album — or a regular, page-turning one, if they’re unable to use an electronic device — might be a thoughtful gift that will evoke the past and help them reminisce.
- Stick to the tried-and-true. Nutrition is crucial to cognitive health, as our own Chef Samir knows. Taste declines with age, and both metabolism and digestion slow down, which can make eating well more challenging — especially for someone who has memory loss, which can affect appetite. Chef Samir aims to turn every Kensington meal into a delectable experience, and encourages anyone who is making a holiday meal for a loved one with memory loss to prepare the dishes they know and love.
This is not the time to experiment with exciting new recipes. Tradition is the hallmark of the holiday season, so if you usually cook a turkey with all the trimmings, don’t go vegan this year (although you could ask a guest to prepare and bring a vegan dish to share). The familiar scents and flavors of tradition can bring back pleasant memories for your loved one.
- Be inclusive. Was your mother the one who made the holiday dinner for decades, and now she can’t recall her favorite recipes? You can still ask for her input as you cook. Or ask her to help decorate the holiday cookies. Nobody’s going to care how they look if they taste delicious — especially the children!
- Facilitate your loved one’s participation. One caregiver relates the poignant story of assisting her parents, both of whom had dementia, in celebrating their wedding anniversary. She would buy cards and gifts for each of them, “from” the other one, and help them give these to each other.
While she acknowledges that these celebrations would no doubt have been judged “fiascos” by regular standards, for two people with memory impairment, she felt these moments gave life “some texture.” She writes, “If anyone needs something to make one day stand out from all the others, it’s those who are already coping with the indignities and tediousness that often come with [memory loss].”
How The Kensington Celebrates Your Loved One Every Day
Here at The Kensington Falls Church, we treat every day as a holiday, in the sense of providing the highest quality service, food, care, attention, and love to each of our residents.
One son of a memory care resident wrote, “We moved our mother into Memory Care after her dementia worsened while she was living in England. We chose The Kensington for its caring and attentive staff, the activities, and the cheery atmosphere. The staff went out of their way to assist us in freeing up a place for Mom as her condition worsened.
“I cannot say enough about the staff and the care our mother has received and continues to receive. She trusts and appreciates the staff and enjoys many of the activities. We visit at different times, 3-4 times a week, and have always found her to be engaged and well cared for.
“I highly recommend The Kensington.”
And the daughter of another resident shared, “Moving my father to The Kensington is the best decision we ever made. I felt like Goldilocks when I looked at other living facilities. Every place I visited was ‘too much’ or ‘not enough,’ but when I walked into The Kensington, it felt ‘just right.'”
We look forward to meeting you soon, and to helping your loved one become a treasured member of The Kensington family.