Health Care

For people with memory problems, quieter holiday gatherings may work best

Family traditions may revolve around joyous, busy gatherings, but people with memory problems are likely to fare better in smaller, more intimate occasions.

That’s the advice from professionals who work daily with people who have dementia or other conditions. A large gathering can be overwhelming or frightening to a person who has a hard time even remembering the names and faces of beloved relatives.

At this time of year, Alzheimers NC is getting the word out about planning low-key holiday events for people with dementia. State aging officials say more than 170,000 people in North Carolina have Alzheimer’s, a figure projected to rise to 300,000 by 2030.

“We tell caregivers to just kind of watch the person’s body language, as well as what they are telling you,” said Dee Dee Harris, family service director of Alzheimer’s North Carolina.

“They may have been a big family person, but you have to watch for over-stimulation. You can change traditions if you have to – instead of one big event, you might have several smaller ones.”

Daily caregivers echo these sentiments.

“Most people with dementia, they are used to routines,” said Kendra Chance, assistant director of the East Wake Total Life Center, an adult day-care center in Wendell.

“When things are so active and over the top, they usually get a little bit more confused and even combative. The smaller the better, the more intimate the better.”

Chance, 41, has worked with older people at the center for 11 years. She and her staff are so dedicated to the 20 to 25 older clients who receive daily care there that they dig into their own pockets to make sure each one has a present.

“We make it our business to get them something. Even if they don’t remember it, they got to open a present,” Chance said.

“We do the same songs every Christmas, and we play the bells. They love that, because it’s something they know they’re going to get to do.”

Set schedule

Having a set schedule for activities benefits the staff as well as the clients.

“If you ever do something different, it throws their whole day off,” Chance said.

Thinking about the loved one’s individual needs can spark creative solutions, Harris said.

“Music might still be good for the person, or even certain food,” Harris said. “We want the caregivers to be very observant. We should be thinking about what’s still left to the person.”

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can take a long toll, with later stages in which it’s common for the patient to become fretful or weary. But the person may still receive degrees of satisfaction from old traditions in different versions.

“If your family member loves Christmas music, maybe you could go for a car ride, go see Christmas lights and keep Christmas music going,” Harris said.