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Celebrating July 4th With a Loved One Who Has Dementia

Making this Independence Day a family event with someone who has Alzheimer's or another form of dementia? Whether you're celebrating big-time or just looking to be quietly festive together on the Fourth, these tips can help:

Focus on mood, not memories

Being asked about past holidays and if-you-remember-so-and-so can be stressful for someone with memory problems. Don't cling too tightly to the way you've always done things in the past or expect your loved one to participate in certain rituals (hanging a flag, making a trademark dessert) just because he or she always has done them.

Instead, put your energy into creating a happy, positive mood. For those with dementia, the positive emotions of a good mood usually linger long after the event itself is forgotten. Remain unstressed and unhurried yourself. Keep the atmosphere low-key and avoid chaos. Try to preserve your loved one's usual schedule and routines. (So, for example, don't expect him or her to sit at a parade in the hot sun during what's usually lunch and nap time.)

Play up the classic festive touches

Even though you don't need to dwell on past memories, the Fourth of July is a wonderful holiday for sparking connections, given the emphasis on flags, red-white-and-blue bunting, and patriotic music. These elements can add a festive air that fuels a feel-good mood.

Music is an especially good tool for this. Try playing some John Philip Sousa marches and Americana classics or watching a televised parade with marching bands.

Keep one companion close

Beware of large crowds, which can feed confusion. At large gatherings like picnics or family reunions, assign one relative to stay at your loved one's side throughout. Someone with dementia will feel more relaxed and secure with a familiar face nearby who can provide food, refill refreshments, monitor the noise level and temperature, "introduce" visiting relatives, and so on.

Two different people could fill this role, but it's best not to leave this chore to a constantly rotating cast -- or to leave your loved one alone in a corner.

Handle fireworks with care

Most fireworks displays don't start until late, after it gets dark. If your loved one is getting tired or restless, pushing him or her to stay up might not be worth the emotional price you pay for breaking routines.

If your family's version of fireworks is limited to sparklers and firecrackers in the backyard, just watch to make sure the person with dementia is comfortable with the noise and commotion. Some people will react positively to the sparklers' beauty, while others may be upset by the loud noise and smoke. If it's not working, go inside and call it a happy day -- or, better yet, watch the televised versions, which have the advantage of a musical soundtrack that's apt to provide added appeal.

Memory Matters Utah/Nevada wishes you a happy and safe Independence Day Holiday! Our office will be closed on July 4th but will reopen on July 5th.

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