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November 25, 2003

Media Contact: Sue Pondrom (619) 543-6163

Holiday Tips to Include Memory Impaired Persons
And Those with Behavioral Problems


With the holidays approaching, persons with memory impairment or behavioral problems may not feel comfortable in large family gatherings. However, there is much that loved ones can do to make these individuals a part of the holiday celebrations.

Daniel Sewell, M.D., director of the Senior Behavioral Health Unit at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Medical Center, offers several suggestions for helping persons with memory impairment or behavioral problems to get the most enjoyment out of family gatherings during the holidays:

  • Plan ahead. If the individual is vulnerable to over-stimulation, limit the activities or length of time in which he or she is included. For example, don’t let dinner continue on for multiple hours.
  • Establish a quiet room in the home, so that the family member can step out of the hustle and bustle for a calm moment.
  • Budget in naptime, especially if the loved one is accustomed to daily naps.
  • Assign a family member to be that day’s companion to the elderly member, to monitor how he or she is doing and to make sure they feel comfortable.
  • If the get-together is in the home of the person with memory impairment or behavioral problems, don’t rearrange the furniture. This could be a source of confusion and anxiety.
  • Don’t put out a lot of finger foods, like sweets, especially if the individual has a problem with impulse control. This could lead to sugar-induced hyperactivity or an upset stomach.
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption, which can provoke bad behavior or interfere with medications.
  • Break down complicated tasks and involve the individual in a simple, helpful preparation task, such as greasing one of the cooking pans or peeling potatoes. This aids self-esteem and helps him or her feel a sense of contribution to the day’s celebrations.
  • Engage everyone, including the memory-impaired, with reminiscing. Often, individuals with memory problems can recall the past but forget recent events or conversations. By getting them to talk about the past, younger family members can be exposed to their roots and the memory-impaired will feel validated for their perspective on family history.
  • Avoid criticism that can embarrass or shame the older person. For example, when they forget a recent conversation, refrain from saying “don’t you remember??”

“All of these suggestions need to be individualized for each person and their specific needs,” Sewell says. “These folks can get lost in the shuffle and chaos of happy family gatherings. So, just be sensitive and loving. And plan ahead.”







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