The holidays can be a profoundly stressful time for a Person With Dementia (PWD) and his/her family members. To avoid even more stress and any potentially awkward or embarrassing situations, family members who don’t know about the PWD’s diagnosis should be made aware of it. That way, you will avoid any shock and/or inappropriate remarks when your Uncle Fred decides to pipe up and exclaim, “Hey, why are you acting so weird?!”
Many years ago, I was driving my parents to Wisconsin to visit my maternal grandmother. My dad was sitting in the front seat of the car with me. He used to read the daily newspaper from cover to cover. So, I wasn’t surprised to look over and see him reading the paper during our trip. Dad also had a marvelous sense of humor. So, when I glanced over and saw him reading the newspaper with his sunglasses on, and upside down, I giggled and said, “Very funny, Dad!” But then I saw that he really wasn’t comprehending what I was saying. When we arrived in Wisconsin, I noticed that he needed a lot of help to get out of the car and eventually to the hotel room. I addressed my mother indignantly and asked, “When were you planning on telling me about this?” She replied, “I just didn’t want you to worry.” So, what would have been a better approach? Was it better to cover up the situation and let it rear its ugly head at a time when I didn’t expect it? Or should she have told me?
This season, if you intend on taking your Person With Dementia to a holiday party, plan to keep the visit short. Parties with a lot of people, flashing lights, noise, and kids, etc., can be very overwhelming. It is a good idea to have a family member assigned to stay with the PWD so that he or she stays engaged and does not withdraw. Look for a quiet room where the person can retreat to if he or she becomes overwhelmed. Or you may want to avoid parties all together and have family members visit the person at home in smaller numbers. If you have recently moved your loved one to a long-term care community, it probably is not advisable to take the PWD out of the environment to which he or she is just getting accustomed. All of the communities will have some sort of holiday get-together that family members can attend. Dementia is an unpredictable disease, so it is best to avoid behavioral issues from the get-go.