For people living with dementia or Alzheimer's, too much sensory or change in the environment can put a damper on holiday cheer. That's why Alzheimer's Association advocates recommend planning ahead for the holidays.
Amelia Cottle's husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years ago at age 58 and died earlier this year. Cottle, an Alzheimer's support group coordinator, remembers how important it was for her family to adapt their environment to his needs.
Cottle said their first Thanksgiving after the diagnosis was the most difficult for him.
"Thanksgiving was very overwhelming and uncomfortable for my husband, even when around people he's known all his life," Cottle said. "It got to the point where he went and sat in the woods outside and our family took turns sitting out there with him."
Throughout their journey, Cottle said, she had to learn what worked and how to limit the level of stimulation that could upset her husband or send him into isolation.
The number of people attending family gatherings decreased from 10 people to five, or they would come over on different days, she said.
"The most important thing is to communicate with family members and explain to them how it's better to interact one-on-one as opposed to the traditional big group settings," Cottle said. "As the disease progresses, their hearing worsens and even their ability to feed themselves is affected."
Robin Nolte, hospice liaison at Compassus: Hospice, Palliative Care and In Home Health, said keeping things simple is best.
"It's important for people with dementia or Alzheimer's to have a structured daily routine no matter what," Nolte said. "New environments or too many people can cause anxiety."
Nolte recommends setting aside a quiet space for the loved one, finding food they are able to eat and interacting one-on-one when possible.
"Remember to go to their world," she said.
Cottle added: "Be willing to adapt so loved ones have their dignity while feeling loved and respected, and so they can feel included in the celebrations."
The Alzheimer's Association Greater Missouri Chapter offers other tips for the holidays here: https://alz.org/documents/greatermissouri/HolidayTips_Packet_PRINT.pdf.