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Adjusting family life and holiday traditions after a loved one has a change in health can be a challenge for families. As the number of people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia grows each year, it can be tough for families to experience the holidays as they have in years past due to their loved one’s mood, cognition or severity of the disease. Parkway Place, a senior living community in West Houston, has some tips for families who may be seeking advice on how to make the holidays magical once again for their family and their loved one. They provide simple ideas every family can incorporate to adjust to their loved ones’ needs while still celebrating the season together.

“It is important to plan ahead to ensure that you get the most out of the holiday season,” said Sunny Chatagnier, executive director of Parkway Place. “We find that incorporating activities families can do together while keeping expectations realistic are key components to success. We work hard in our community to help families enjoy the holidays together, especially when a loved one has dementia.”

Chatagnier offers the following advice that has proven to help residents of The Harbor, Parkway Place’s certified Alzheimer’s assisted living community:

  1. Keep familiar objects around them. They can offer support and familiarity when a person might feel anxious or nervous about change. Whether it is a favorite holiday decoration or a photo of a favorite birthday, these treasures can provide comfort to someone experiencing memory loss.
  2. Work to continue as many family traditions as possible, but adapt them to their new lifestyle. While your loved one may not remember these occasions, they are still treasured memories for your family to have. Work with your family or with outside caregivers to ensure you plan these experiences to set your loved one up for success.
  3. Adapt gift giving. Diminishing capacity may make some gifts unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person with dementia needs or can easily enjoy, like comfortable clothing, audiotapes of favorite music, videos and photo albums.

Families with loved ones living in The Harbor know firsthand the benefits of these tips. When 84-year-old Mary Sue Ferguson had a stroke a year ago, which worsened her existing dementia, her family members knew their lives would not be the same. They had to adjust Ferguson’s daily living routines and moved her to Parkway Place from Beaumont to be closer to family.

“She is treated with respect, and even during the holidays we don’t feel like we miss out on our traditions because Parkway Place allows us to carry those on just as we would at home,” said Lisa Herman, Ferguson’s daughter.

Parkway Place works to schedule holiday-themed activities for families of residents so they can continue family traditions or make new memories together. As a loved one’s disease progresses, they feel it is important to adapt gatherings to their new behaviors and adjust expectations. For instance, around Thanksgiving Parkway Place hosts a meal for families to gather and celebrate the holiday, and there is an annual Christmas open house. In the Harbor, families treasure these memories because the holidays can be especially challenging. Parkway Place suggests that families who are experiencing these types of challenges focus on creating new moments for families to celebrate together, rather than expecting your loved one to celebrate as they have in years past.

“To see not only the faces of the residents enjoying the magic of the holidays, but the reaction of their families who are in attendance at these events is something I’ll never forget,” said Chatagnier. “They see their loved one experience the joys of these traditions, and while it may be in a different way than they’ve previously done it, the sentiment and feeling of the celebration is still apparent from everyone there.”

“The best Christmas present for me is to see my mother in a place where she is happy and our holiday traditions can continue,” said Herman. “They don’t treat their residents as just residents – they always go the extra mile – and that’s a wonderful gift to be given. I feared that because my mom was someplace other than home, the holidays as we knew them would end, but they’re letting us continue them here.”

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