GEM: Learning new skills as we navigate the holidays

Published 5:54 am Thursday, December 9, 2021

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By Gail Sonnesso, GEM Day Services

We would all like to sail through the holidays with the wind at our back, but when a loved one is living with cognitive changes, we need a good pilot. The first thing that you as the care partner (pilot) can do is assess your holiday plans and be aware of what can be reasonably accomplished while actively caring and supporting your loved one. Knowing/acknowledging both your strengths – and theirs – is a good beginning.

Planning with the knowledge of what holiday traditions to continue and which ones to modify is key to helping us smoothly traverse the season. To be effective, the “pilot” should know their loved one and understand the cognitive challenges arising from where they are on their journey.

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Top Tips for Dementia Caregiving This Holiday Season:

  1. Avoid crowded and noisy places; attend celebrations that are structured and not too long.
  2. Be creative in giving gifts – i.e., adult coloring books, favorite music and old movies, etc.
  3. Designate a quiet room; know when your loved one is overwhelmed and provide a break.
  4. Give yourself permission to say “no” and know your own limits.
  5. Involve your loved one in holiday preparations such as baking cookies, signing cards or wrapping gifts.
  6. Keep traditions alive and well; modify them if you need to.
  7. Maintain routines – this will give your loved one comfort through familiarity.
  8. More meaning, less stuff.
  9. Prepare your visitors and guests; contact them before they arrive and share helpful tips about the best way to interact.
  10. Prioritize self-care; take care of yourself, take advantage of community friends and paid caregivers.
  11. Engage in the community; join GEM for a Harmony Café.

GEM is hosting a Holiday Harmony Café on Friday, December 10 from 2-4 p.m.! We are excited that The Riff Tides will be performing a blend of 50s rock ’n roll and holiday classics. Our teaching artists will be Susan Darling and Barbara Hanft as we make holiday-themed greeting cards. We are pleased to be able to offer our cafes at no charge thanks to the Dare County Arts Council’s Power of Art Program and financial support from our local communities.

Harmony Cafe is a place where any senior that would benefit from memory care may practice that skill in a safe, supportive and engaging environment.  PLEASE NOTE: This is not a drop-off program and each participant should be accompanied by a family member or community friend. There is no charge for Harmony Cafe, but please pre-register by contacting Gail Sonnesso, executive director of GEM, via email at or by phone at 252-480-3354.