Expert shares ways to stay festive with a memory-impaired family member


The executive director of Insight Memory Care Center in Fairfax, Virginia, offers some tips for navigating the holidays with a family member suffering from memory impairment.

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.

When Anita Irvin and her family were decorating their Christmas tree this year, she says her father didn’t decorate the way they may have wanted him to, but Irvin says she told her mother that, “He’s finding enjoyment in this task right now and we need to be okay with it.”

Irvin’s family is one of the millions of American families coping with a family member who has memory impairments. She’s also the executive director of Insight Memory Care Center in Fairfax, Virginia, the only “Dementia specific” adult health and resource center in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.

The nonprofit organization, founded in 1984, provides support groups, caregiver education, a day center, and an early-stage program. They have 60 participants in their day center who are anywhere from moderate to late stages in the disease process.

Irvin says the holiday season is a busy and stressful time for most people, “But when you’re dealing with somebody who has a cognitive impairment, it makes it on steroids.”

Her advice to caregivers is to keep it simple. Instead of attending dinner at a family member’s home, “They come for dessert where there’s less people and less stimulation going on.”

She says if you’re having people over to your home, prepare guests for what condition your loved one is in, “So that they know when they come to visit, they’re not blindsided by the disease process.”

Melissa Long is Director of Education and Support at IMCC. She says instead of taking your loved ones out for Christmas, why not bring Christmas to them, especially if they’re in a community facility.

Longs says that can include, “Some common tradition that they’re used to like hanging a special ornament on the community tree or bringing their favorite cookie.” Long says sometimes leaving their comfort space can trigger behaviors and make it uncomfortable for everyone.

If you’re looking for gift ideas for someone with cognitive impairment, Irvin says it all depends on what stage. “People in the mild cognitive impairment state you might look at some sudoko games or some brain health games, trivia, things like that.”

For people that are further along in the disease process, “You might look at you might look at puzzles, sensory stim stuff,” Irvin says.

A sensory idea that both Irvin and Long suggested is a textured quilt because they say it gives the person a sense of touch without them having to think about it.

Irvin says if you’re the caregiver of someone with cognitive impairments, “Make sure your taking self-care time whether that’s meditation, exercise, diet sleep. All those things are really important.” She concludes, “If we don’t take care of ourselves as caregivers we sure as heck can’t take care of our loved ones.”

To find out about free memory screenings and free consultations go to Insight Memory Care Center’s website.


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