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Debbie Selsavage

Coping with Dementia

Individuals living with dementia need a calm environment, low sensory stimulation and a predictable routine. This means the holidays, with their social demands, traditions and family gatherings can create special challenges.

If your family has traditional gatherings, explain your situation and how hard these events can be for someone with dementia. Some of your family may not understand, but it may be necessary to pass or avoid activities, unless you have the kind of reliable support where you can leave your loved one in someone else’s care while you attend holiday events.

Do not take your person with dementia shopping. What many of us consider an exciting and enjoyable tradition of the season is usually not fun for a person with dementia. The noise, the bright lights and colors, the crowds, the loud music and the hustle and bustle can be disturbing.

Avoid travel, especially for long or overnight trips. Every change in routine and environment is a disruption that can put your loved one into an emotional tailspin. Air travel can be especially difficult. Airports are a high-stress environment and the noise and crowded conditions on airplanes can be frightening for someone with dementia.

But I’m not saying that the holidays are nothing but bad news for people living with dementia. There are quiet traditions of the season that may work to a

caregiver’s advantage.

For example, music is one of the best therapies for people with dementia. Try putting on soft carols — not the loud, secular songs played in shopping malls. Try using tiny white, non-blinking lights on your Christmas tree and ask your loved one to help with simple decorating tasks. People with dementia want to fit in. They like to be helpful.

We all want the holidays to be a happy time and this is no less true for a person with dementia. Focus on the quiet and low-stimulation activities that your loved one seems to enjoy, and have a happy holiday!

Debbie Selsavage is a certified trainer and consultant in the Positive Approach to Care, and a certified dementia practitioner. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC, is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia. Contact Debbie at

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