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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Watson

Chaos and Dementia- A Lethal Combination

The holidays are approaching. From November through the first of January there will be lots to celebrate. But when the one you love has dementia you may feel a bit apprehensive about the upcoming celebrations. Chaos and dementia can really be a lethal combination.

“Mom and I have developed a routine. And it works. For the most part that is. When family or friends show up unexpected and throw us off our routine, I notice that mom becomes quite anxious.

My sister really wants to have a big Thanksgiving meal at her house this year and she wants me to bring Mom. Sarah doesn’t spend much time with Mom. She is always busy with her job. As such she doesn’t really see the day to day challenges I face.

There will be 18 people at Sarah’s house. She wants us to arrive about 4 PM. Anyone who deals with dementia knows what a horrible time of day that can be. I am not sure how to handle this situation.” Help Me! ~ Miriam

Miriam, you are right to be concerned. Routines are important for someone dealing with dementia. At the same time, it is important for families to get together over the holidays. The following suggestions might help your situation.

Set Boundaries with Your Sister

Chances are there may be a lot of issues between the two of you. But this is not the time to start a war or even to resolve those issues. This is a time to come together for the good of your Mom. Chaos and dementia simple do not work well together.

You need to set boundaries with your sister. If this is hard for you to do work with a coach, counselor or good friend who can help. Let your sister know how much you and mom appreciate her hosting Thanksgiving for the family. Then let her know that you want to help her make sure that everything goes smoothly. This will help her understand that you are on her side.

Next, let her know how sundowning affects mom and suggest that the timeline be moved up to accommodate. Dinner at 1 or 2 PM instead of 5 or 6 PM will ensure a much more pleasant event for everyone.

Expect Push Back

Sarah probably wants to have the dinner later to giver her more time. Chances are she is feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought of hosting a large dinner in her home. Suggest getting the nieces involved to help. Remind Sarah that she is a busy executive. As such she should delegate some of the work for this event just like she does at the office. Let her know that the time of day is simply non- negotiable.

Educate Family Members Before They Arrive

For those who have not seen your mom in a while it is important to educate them about her behaviors. You do not need to go into great detail. But it is important they understand how to talk to her. Also make sure you explain any anxiety triggers she may have.

Ask that they take turns visiting with mom. If everyone tries to talk to her at the same time it will be overwhelming. And remind them to smile! If they haven’t seen her in a long time they may be shocked at her appearance. Make sure it doesn’t show on their face. A few pointers you could give are:

  • Don’t Ask- Do you remember me?

  • Instead Say- Hi, I’m Jeff, your nephew. It is so good to see you.

This way if she doesn’t remember you, she will not feel embarrassed or anxious. Instead she will focus on feeling good.

  • Don’t say- Don’t you remember last year at Thanksgiving?

  • Instead say- How did you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family?

She may talk about a time when she was a small child or she could talk about when her children were small. Until you know what time period Mom is in today don’t assume. Ask questions that help her to stir positive memories.

Other examples include:

  • What is your favorite holiday song? If mom doesn’t come up with something tell her what your favorite holiday song is. In fact, you could go around the room with each person singing a verse of their favorite.

  • What was the best present you ever received?

  • What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?

Set Up a Quiet Room

Just the number of unfamiliar faces can become overwhelming for mom. Have a room set up away from the chaos so the Mom can retreat. Set it up with music mom likes, aromatherapy and any comforting object Mom may like.

By setting clear boundaries and preparing both the environment and the participants in advance you will be able to have a lovely celebration.

In honor of our founder Pat Mack we are carrying on the tradition of caring for our residents in "The Light Heart Way"

Call_281-282-0770 to schedule a tour of Light Heart Memory Care. And remember to have a light heart. Everything is going to be okay.

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