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Celebrating Holidays with People with Dementia

Celebrating Holidays with People with Dementia

Samvedna Senior Care regularly conducts Dementia Support Group meetings for family caregivers. In these meetings, specialists from the field and caregivers are invited, to discuss issues and challenges that they face while providing care for their loved ones suffering from dementia. In the last meeting, Dr. Vijay Kumar, Consultant Psychiatrist at Samvedna Senior Care was invited to discuss the topic, ‘Memory Loss and Dementia, Celebrating Holidays and Festivals.’ In this meeting, our experts answered questions that the audience had related to dementia and the challenges that they might be facing with the advent of the festive season.

With several cultures coming together in our country, there are numerous festivals to celebrate. These year-long festivities bring everyone joy and could play a significant role in the lives of people with dementia. There are several things that one could do in order to make festivals more inclusive for people with cognitive impairment. Since the entire year is filled with festivals, planning in advance could be very helpful.

Having a big clock and calendar in the room, and some indication of how many days are left for a particular festival would make it easy for them to remember. While sharing her experiences of working with people with dementia, our specialist, Geenaa Thaploo had to say, ‘It may be confusing if decorations for festivals start last minute. Inform the patient that Christmas (or any other festival) is coming up and hence the decorations are there. Be very patient and slow while introducing the festivals.  Do not let the routine get disturbed. Familiar routines as important, so make sure they have meals or sleep, at the same time. They should also be made aware of the changes that are being done in their room. Do not add/remove too many things.’

Engaging people with dementia is important to keep them oriented and reduce distress. So, the caregivers should discuss the festival with them, talk about how they used to celebrate the festivals, and ask for their help in planning. This helps in stimulating the brain and helps them work on their planning skills. This also keeps them busy and makes them want to look forward to the next festival as well. Sonam Yadav, our specialist at Samvedna Senior Care mentioned, ‘Give them activities to do and help them choose. Ask them to help with decorations, which colors to use, where to place them etc. This would make them feel involved and would make them feel that their decisions matter. Ask them who all should come to visit, what should it look like, what should be the food? They may watch a movie, play some specific games, go through old family photographs, engage them in those activities. If the individual cannot participate in the activities, ask them how they used to celebrate different festivities and what memory do they have of it. It is also important to encourage socialization. However, ask the guests to come in a staggered way to avoid overstimulation. Lastly, if during these celebrations, if the patient gets anxious, they should have a safe space to retreat to, where the noises are controlled, and the space has their favorite things. This would ensure that they have a sense of safety and some.’

Dr. Vijay Kumar, added, ‘Festivals also bring up a lot for people. Bhajans and kirtans, songs, and carols bring back memories from the past. Caregivers should encourage the patients to make connections of these memories with their past experiences. With dementia, long-term memories are last to fade and reminiscence of these memories keeps them active. Music is found to be beneficial for people in advanced stages of dementia as well. For persons with advanced stage dementia, if it is hard to get them out of the room, then decorate their room and play their favorite they can still listen to music. Some visitors could also be allowed.  Festivals should be celebrated the same way the families have always celebrated them, any change in traditions or modernization might confuse your loved one with dementia.’

 These celebrations, brighten up the atmosphere and bring joy to our hearts. It works the same for people with dementia patients. However, these festivities also pose some challenges for the caregivers. We can’t expect everyone to have good memories of festivals from the past. Hence, festivals may also trigger negative emotions and difficult old memories may also come up. In such cases, keep the histories of the patient in mind, while preparing and also offering them emotional support. These festivals may make them irritated due to excessive noises. Irritation is a way of communicating that something is wrong. Caregivers may have a hard time understanding what might be causing the irritation, but with more patience and understanding this situation could be resolved. 

The festivals, their positive energy, the celebration, the exchanging of wishes and food is anyway something to look forward to. Dr. Jayashree Dasgupta said in the closing statement, ‘Some of the challenges might be very disturbing as a caregiver. Remember that such challenges are quite common, and we cannot change the situation and hence, we need to accept it. Caregivers should also take this time to enjoy themselves and relieve them of stress.’

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Samvedna Senior Care, C-13 Anand Niketan, New Delhi