Festivities are typically a time for joy and celebration across all cultures. However, it might present as a stressful time for both caregivers and persons with dementia due to a disruption in their usual routine.
Here are some practical tips on how you can make the time an enjoyable one for all family members:
1. Consider the food
Food is often a highlight in family get-togethers. Ensure that the food being served can also be savoured by your loved one. Try to serve bite-sized finger food, or soft foods for those with difficulty swallowing.
2. Planning the day
Try to keep to your loved one’s usual routine as much as possible. Schedule in some rest time for your loved one if an entire day of bustle might be overwhelming. Stagger the timings for visiting if you have many relatives coming as it might be overwhelming for your loved one.
3. Preparing for the festivities
What are the usual routines you do with your loved one during the festivities? Try to involve them with simple activities, such as rolling the dough when baking festive goodies, or folding paper decorations. The preparation process can also help to orientate your loved one and get them excited for the upcoming celebrations.
4. Communicate with your relatives
5. Prepare some reminiscence materials
6. Enjoy the festivities too!
Get a relative to help out with your caregiving duties so that you will have some time off for yourself to enjoy the festivities and celebrations too. In instances of stress and exhaustion, remember to partake in some self-care practices such as mindful breathing.
While these tips are generally helpful, it is important to recognise that each person living with dementia and their family is different. This means that some families may prioritise certain tips over others to better cater to the specific needs and preferences of their loved one living with dementia.
Here is an example of how a caregiver in Singapore has made festive celebrations more dementia-inclusive for her loved one living with dementia:
Mr Teng & Jacqueline's story
Jacqueline is the primary caregiver to her father, Mr Teng, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2021. A retiree in the mild stage of his dementia, Mr Teng lives rather independently and spends his time reading the papers, going on long walks, and attending weekly activity programmes organised by the Meeting Centre near his home. However, like many others with mild dementia, he has trouble initiating activities, handling his finances, and remembering people’s names and faces.
When planning their Chinese New Year celebration, Jacqueline takes into consideration Mr Teng’s daily routine, strengths as well as weaknesses to eliminate any stress or anxiety leading up to and during the festivities.
Jacqueline makes sure to involve Mr Teng in activities like carrying some of the bags when they go grocery shopping, spring cleaning and choosing Chinese New Year snacks. When it comes to cleaning, she puts him in charge of wiping the surfaces with wet wipes. She also works with him to declutter the home by asking him if he would like to get rid of certain things he has not used in a while and respects his decision if he says he wants to keep them.
Nearing Chinese New Year, she also brings Mr Teng to Chinatown to soak in the atmosphere and engages him in conversation about what Chinatown used to be like back in the day.
When planning out the two-day public holiday, Jacqueline tends to schedule house visits (of not more than 3 houses) on the first day and a full day of rest on the second day. As Mr Teng likes to take 2-hour long walks every day, she is confident that he has the stamina to move around from one house to the other with no problem.
At these houses, she makes sure to involve Mr Teng in the tradition of giving out ang bao. When it comes to food, Jacqueline tends to leave him to it as he is rather health conscious himself and will not stop him from indulging on a few pieces of duck when he wants to. However, she does remind him to have his meals at his regular mealtimes if he has forgotten to do so.
Jacqueline also regularly updates their relatives about Mr Teng’s condition, which means that other family members are knowledgeable of his needs and will keep a look out for him on behalf of Jacqueline. For instance, they will check-in with him every now and then, are understanding when he repeats himself in conversations and do not get offended when he is unable to remember who they are.
Sharing the caregiving responsibilities with her family members, though temporarily, allows Jacqueline to relax and enjoy the festivities for herself as well. Additionally, both Mr Teng and herself are able to rest and recuperate from a long day of house visiting on the second day.
This careful and intentional planning for their Chinese New Year celebration has also proven to be meaningful for Mr Teng. He had informed Jacqueline at the end of the day that he feels so lucky that his family still remembers him, invites him over for celebrations and are extremely warm and caring towards him.
Mr Teng and Jacqueline’s story truly illustrates that is not only important, but extremely worthwhile, to make festivities more dementia-inclusive for your loved one living with dementia.