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Minding our Elders: Home from the memory unit for Christmas … will it work?

DEAR CAROL: My parents have been married for over 50 years. Mom has moderate to advanced dementia and moved to a memory care unit three months ago. Dad was her primary caregiver until he couldn’t handle her needs anymore so this is very hard on him.

We’ll have the family Christmas gathering at my home and Dad thinks he should bring Mom here for dinner. As a family, we’re divided about what is best for Mom. If she came here she could enjoy our family traditions but would it just set back her adjustment to her new surroundings? What’s the best approach? – Nicole

DEAR NICOLE: This is going to be a very hard holiday for your dad no matter what your family decides to do, particularly since your mom’s move to memory care is so recent. I’m glad that you’re approaching this decision together.

Every family is different as is every person with dementia. To complicate matters, each day can be different for your mom as far as her cognitive and emotional problems go. For these reasons there’s no right or wrong answer. Whatever you decide, you’ll have to cope with the reality that your mom’s perception of the holiday excitement won’t be what it once was.

One option is to bring your mom to your home this year. She may do fine while she’s there, though you’re right that the readjustment to her new home could be difficult. It’s also possible that disrupting her now familiar routine could cause anxiety or agitation from the start.

It’s important that your family understand that the home you are considering bringing your mom to for Christmas may seem completely foreign to her at this point. Your dad, especially, needs to be prepared for that possibility in order to cope with disappointment if things go badly. The facility’s social worker may be able to help him understand some of risks of taking your mom out before he makes a decision.

Another option is that your dad could eat his meal with your mom at the care center while the rest of the family splits shifts to spend some of the day with her and some at your home with other family members. Your dad could adjust his time as the day evolves.

If there are young grandchildren involved, they could visit their grandmother on Christmas Eve day and then they could spend Christmas Day in the traditional manner as the adults take shifts at both places.

Flexibility will be the key this year. The whole family will have to let go of the expectation that holidays should be the same as in the past. Encourage everyone to do what they can and enjoy each other in whatever setting seems appropriate.

Once your dad understands the risks of bringing your mom to your home for Christmas, he may choose to join her at her new home instead. However, if he’d still rather bring her to the family, you’ll likely want to go along with his wishes and hope it goes well. He’s the person who is likely having the hardest time adjusting to the changes, so he’s going to need everyone’s support.

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