‘I hope in times it will bring back memories’: Celebrating the 4th of July with Alzheimer’s

Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 8:46 PM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - Fireworks and celebrations are a staple of the 4th of July, but for some these can create unique challenges.

Those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses may have to celebrate differently.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) recently released tips to help families create a dementia-friendly 4th of July.

AFA encourages families to follow these tips to help create a dementia-friendly 4th of July:

  • Blow Off the Fireworks

Fireworks and loud explosions can be distressing for someone living with dementia. Consider keeping the person indoors at times they are likely to hear fireworks. Adapt the fireworks tradition by watching a fireworks display on TV.

  • Be Prepared

Even if you’re inside, the noise and explosions of nearby fireworks can cause anxiety, fear, or agitation for someone living with dementia. Prepare your loved one in advance by explaining to them that there may be loud noises and continue doing so gently at different intervals.

Soothing background sounds such as a white noise machine or an air conditioner can help keep the person relaxed if fireworks are going off near the home. Playing familiar, favorite music can also be helpful. Having favorite comfort items/objects on hand (i.e., blanket, article of clothing, etc.) can help provide additional consolation.

Check in on your loved one during the night if they live with you. If they live alone, consider asking a trusted relative or friend to stay with them, or hire a home caregiver for the night.

  • Keep Gatherings Small

If you plan on a gathering, keep it small—large crowds can be overwhelming, disorienting, and anxiety-producing for someone living with dementia. Consider providing name tags for everyone to help the person.

Because of the possibility of sundowning, lunchtime celebrations could be best when there is less anxiety of confusion. Keep the person’s routines as normal as possible, including mealtimes, naptimes, and going to sleep at night. Incorporate favorite activities into the day.

  • Celebrate Creatively

Get involved in the holiday spirit by doing things together. Examples include creating patriotic decorations with your loved one, playing or singing familiar patriotic music, baking 4th of July themed desserts, or compiling a family album with pictures of past Independence Day memories. Each of these activities can be cognitively stimulating and help your loved one express themselves creatively.

David Hernandez with the West Texas Alzheimer’s Association says continuing traditions around the holidays can spark memories.

“Whether its having their favorite food, smelling the food or just being outside the taste of watermelon, the sensation of a cupcake, decorating a cupcake or the smell of apple pie, their senses are there and that’s very powerful,” said Hernandez.

Charlotte Beetle who is from Sanford, TX along with her husband Kent says they plan to celebrate on Monday even though his wife does not realize what day it is.

Right now, Charlotte’s memory lasts for about three minutes.

“I hope in times it will bring back memories of her childhood, every once in awhile I get a peak into a past that she hasn’t let go before, just a memory will pop up that may have been hidden,” said Kent Beetle.

The Beetles encourage others to just take it ‘one day at a time’.

Families with questions or concerns can speak with a licensed social worker by calling AFA’s Helpline at 866-232-8484.

The Alzheimer’s Association also has a 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.

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