The Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays in many Asian cultures and is celebrated by more than 1 billion people around the globe. In the Chinese zodiac, the upcoming year is the Year of the Tiger which is the third of the twelve animals on the Chinese calendar cycle. This year, February 1st marks the first day of this 15-day celebration. The traditions and customs may vary in different regions, but the goal is to welcome prosperity and fortune with your loved ones. Caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia may be challenging during this festive period. The added activities, traditions, and celebrations may change daily routines and the environment. This may increase confusion and stress to the person living with dementia and lead to behavioral changes and/or mood swings.
As a caregiver/care partner, maintaining traditions while providing care can take a toll. Some common holiday tips can be found here, but today, we will share some tips that are specific for celebrating the Lunar New Year.
First, let the person living with dementia get involved in the preparation
Two of the most important Lunar New Year traditions are pre-New Year cleaning and the New Year’s Eve dinner. Encouraging the person living with dementia to participate in the preparation of these activities can make her/him feel included and engaged. It can also help her/him get more familiar with the upcoming festive season. Before involving the person living with dementia, consider her/his current abilities, think about what activities s/he may enjoy participating in, and offer activities that s/he can successfully finish.
Second, modify family traditions and avoid overstimulation
A flurry of activity, numerous visitors, and a noisy environment can be a recipe for overstimulation. This may be especially challenging at a New Year’s Eve dinner table. Therefore, extra precautions before and during the meal can be taken to help keep the environment calmer. Food, of course, plays a significant role and holds special meanings in this festival. However, too many dishes on the table may be overwhelming. Setting a plate in front of the person living with dementia and serving the food s/he likes can help prevent overeating or forgetting to eat. Mahjong, dice games, and firecracker/fireworks are often the go-to activities after the big feast. Although families may enjoy these customs, the noise may startle or frighten the person living with dementia.
Consider finding alternative activities that are enjoyable for the person living with dementia like reminiscing, looking through old photo albums, or playing the music s/he likes. For many families, this is the only time of the year that they will see their extended family members. Therefore, communication and adjusting expectations are crucial prior to the gathering.
Third, stick with routines and arrange appropriate and meaningful activities
It is common to make pilgrimages to temples or have family outings the days after the New Year. When making plans, select activities that the person living with dementia will enjoy the most and will fit within her/his existing daily routine. Consider visiting less-crowded areas or making the outings brief. Always give yourself extra time to prepare and try to be flexible. And give yourself permission to leave early, if necessary.
A well-planned Lunar New Year celebration can have a positive impact on the person living with dementia and the people around her/him. Let’s make this holiday dementia-friendly and cherish our moments together. Happy Year of the Tiger!