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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
- 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.”