12/23/2014 02:20 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

5 Holiday Safety and Enjoyment Tips for Those With Memory Loss

During the holidays, many people get in the spirit of spending quality time with loved ones. For those with memory loss, however, the holidays may pose a number of safety challenges. Here are some tips to help everyone in the family have a safe and happy holiday season.

1. Stick With Routines
Those with Alzheimer's or another form of memory loss find comfort in routine. You need to consider important details, such as where to place the tree or other holiday decorative pieces, especially if it means that you might have to move your loved one's favorite chair. This can be very upsetting to a person with memory loss because they feel most safe and secure when their favorite items are in a familiar place. Choosing to preserve their normal routine will help to prevent any additional confusion or anxiety.

2. Choose Safe Decorations
Bead and pine cone decorations that are displayed in pretty bowls or jars may appear as food to individuals with more advanced dementia. Avoid displaying such items, as they may present a choking hazard. The same rule applies to ornaments on your tree that resemble food items, like cupcakes, fruit and candy canes.

Additionally, live poinsettias and mistletoe are beautiful to display this time of year. However, the small berries they contain may pose a choking risk for seniors with advancing memory loss, as well as young kids and pets.

3. Safety Proof Your Home's Common Areas
To help prevent slips or falls, consider these guidelines for the bathrooms, bedrooms and living areas.

Bathrooms: Use non-slip mats in the bathtub, on shower floors and outside of the shower area. Make sure that bars near the bathtub, shower and toilet are well-anchored to the wall.

Bedrooms: Place a lamp within easy reach of the bed, as well as use night lights to illuminate walkways after dark to light the way to the bathroom.

Living Areas: Keep all rooms and passageways well lit. Route electrical cords away from pathways and avoid using scatter rugs. After opening presents, make sure you tuck them away from walkways.

4. Provide Purposeful Activities That Engage All Senses
We all need to feel a sense of meaning, purpose and accomplishment. Your loved one with memory loss is no different. Consider all that they are still able to do. Persons in the earlier stages of memory loss might be able to hold the lights as you place them on the tree, unpack Christmas decorations or help you to wrap gifts.

Years ago, when my children were younger, I brought all of their toys to the adult day center where the clients there had a wonderful time helping me wrap each one. I found that it gave them a sense of purpose and the opportunity to reminisce about all of the gifts they used to buy for their children.

The holidays are a great time to engage all of our senses, not just visually through decorations that are appealing to the eye. Create pleasant memories of past and present by doing multi-sensory activities that satisfy the olfactory, gustatory, kinesthetic and auditory senses. A few activities to consider:

  • Bake and decorate cookies
  • Make popcorn and wash cranberries to string for the tree (again, keeping in mind your loved one's stage of memory loss)
  • Fluff artificial tree branches
  • Listen to holiday music
  • Make bird feeder ornaments
  • Cut sprigs of evergreen
  • Arrange flowers using red carnations

5. Live In The Moment
So often, we think about all of the losses that our loved one with memory impairment is experiencing. But it's more important to remember and celebrate all that remains, keeping in mind that our loved ones with memory loss have a lot to teach us about experiencing the wonder of this beautiful season. This is especially true for us feeling the joy that comes with being more "in the moment."

One of the best gifts that you can give to your loved one is to join them in their journey. Even though you are no longer able to celebrate all of the holiday events the exact same way you did before, there are still numerous ways to enjoy the season if you adopt that "live in the moment" attitude. Sing his favorite carol, listen to him, tell his favorite traditional holiday story even if it means hearing it repeated many times, or watch a favorite holiday movie together. You just might find these moments to be among your most treasured future memories.

It's good to know that with some planning and careful tweaking of traditions, you and your loved ones can continue to enjoy a wonderful and safe holiday season.