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Celebrating Holidays with Dementia-Inclusive Traditions

Advice From Your Advocates Podcast - Ep. 36

​​​​​​Imagine navigating the holiday season with a loved one living with dementia. It's undoubtedly a heart-wrenching reality, yet it also presents an opportunity to connect more profoundly. This is the focus of Attorney Bob Mannor’s earnest conversation with Elisa Bosley, a chaplain and founder of Spiritual Elder Care.

In this fascinating episode, Bob and Elisa tackle the sensitive subject of including dementia patients in our family and religious traditions. Elisa brings her wealth of experience to the table, offering practical tips for planning ahead and embracing the situation with grace and empathy. She underscores the significance of treating our loved ones with dignity during holiday celebrations and creating a conducive environment for them.

The holidays are an excellent opportunity to slow down and involve loved ones living with dementia in meaningful activities. This approach fosters connection and allows them to feel included in the festivities. However, it is essential to remember that this may require some adjustment in how the celebrations are traditionally held.

An older couple decorating a christmas tree

When planning holiday gatherings, it's essential to consider the comfort and needs of dementia patients. This can mean adjusting the timing of celebrations, simplifying activities, or creating a quieter space where they can retreat if things become overwhelming. A helpful strategy is to implement a buddy system, which ensures one-on-one interaction and provides a more manageable and less stressful environment for the person living with dementia.

We also delve into the logistics of handling guests with dementia respectfully and inclusively. By providing name tags, not quizzing them, and offering one-on-one interactions, we can create an atmosphere of understanding and respect. It is important to remember that dementia patients are still members of our families, communities, and religious groups, and their cognitive abilities should not diminish their dignity or sense of belonging.

The art of managing agitation in dementia patients during religious services and celebrations is another critical topic we cover in this episode. Paying attention to body language and cues of discomfort is advised, as well as using a buddy system to ensure the person is cared for. Creating a safe and calm environment, possibly with music as a soothing tool, can significantly enhance their comfort and participation.

Finally, acknowledging and addressing the person's reality is essential, as well as providing practical advice for handling situations where the caregiver may become part of the problem. The goal is to foster an environment of understanding, compassion, and inclusion, not just during the holiday season, but in everyday interactions with our loved ones living with dementia.

The lessons gleaned from this episode go beyond the holiday season. They apply to any situation where we interact with dementia patients, whether it's a family reunion, a birthday party, or a regular day at home. They serve as a reminder of the importance of patience, empathy, and understanding in our dealings with those living with dementia. They remind us to slow down, connect on a deeper level, and most importantly, to cherish the moments we have with our loved ones.Two people letting a toddler hang a Christmas star

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Episode 36 Takeaways

  • ‌Plan ahead and be flexible to accommodate the needs of individuals with dementia during family traditions and holiday gatherings.

  • Create a buddy system to provide one-on-one interactions and support for individuals with dementia.

  • Set up a quiet room or space where individuals with dementia can take a break from overwhelming stimuli.

  • Use music to calm agitation and create a calming atmosphere during gatherings.

  • Recognize the importance of intergenerational interactions and the lessons that individuals with dementia can teach us about slowing down and focusing on what truly matters during the holidays.

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