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Can You Bring a Person with Alzheimer's to Holiday Gatherings?

Just like gifts and fruitcake, parties and family gatherings are a perennial staple of the holiday season. And, for a person caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer's, these get-togethers can be more chore than cheer.

As an experienced caregiver, you have probably adapted your communication style to fit your elderly loved one's capabilities and moods. But, other family members and friends are likely to be unequipped when it comes to interacting with someone who has Alzheimer's.

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This doesn't mean that you have to shut your elderly loved one out of holiday festivities.

As a caregiver, you are in a position to help make fellow party-goers feel more comfortable interacting with a senior who has dementia—making a holiday shindig merrier for all involved:

  1. Give a status update. Send an email, or write a letter with a short primer. Tell everyone who is attending a holiday gathering how the senior with Alzheimer's is doing. Let party-goers know what to expect in terms of behavior. Explain odd quirks and perhaps share a humorous anecdote involving the senior to help put people at ease. Let family and friends know how much you appreciate their efforts to include a senior with dementia into the holiday celebrations. Including a photo is a good way to remind people that they are not interacting with a disease—they are interacting with a beloved family member or friend.
  2. Ease apprehension and encourage interaction. People are likely to feel apprehensive about conversing with a senior who has dementia. What do they say? What if the senior forgets who they're talking to or what the conversation is about? Reassure potential guests that positive interaction with the senior is possible and that engaging with their elderly loved one will help them.
  3. Offer tips. As the primary caregiver of the senior, you are in a unique position to offer guidance to friends and family members who are feeling apprehensive on how to navigate a conversation with a person who has Alzheimer's. Offer up a few tips based off of your interactions with the senior. Potential tips may include: asking open-ended questions, speaking from the heart, and reacting with patience to a senior who repeats themselves or loses the thread of a conversation.
  4. Tactfully handle damage control. If someone is talking to the senior and the interaction goes awry, don't panic and don't immediately apologize. Tend to your elderly loved one first. Once you make sure they are alright, explain the situation to the other person or people involved in the conversation. But, avoid talking about the person with dementia if they are within hearing range.
  5. Be on the lookout for agitation. People dealing with dementia can sometimes become overwhelmed in settings where there is a lot of activity or lots of other people. If you see your elderly loved one showing signs of anxiety, politely excuse yourself and take the senior to a room with no people in it to help them calm down.
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