Gerontologist Katherine Willett has some words of advice for people with elderly loved ones who are dealing with challenges: keep things simple this Christmas, especially if a loved one is suffering from dementia.

“Large celebrations can be confusing and even scary and agitating to a person living with a disease that destroys their brain,” said

Willett, who hosts Burnaby information sessions for family members caring for elderly loved ones. “We always tell families to keep it very simple.”

In the early stage of dementia, someone with Alzheimer’s might appreciate

being with a lot of people, Willett said, but if grandpa’s dementia is progressing, it’s best not to bring him out for family celebrations.

“Just be mindful that if there are seniors in the room or at the table. Make sure they are able to participate, and are truly included in the celebrations in a way that’s comfortable for them,” she said. “At Christmas, there’s a lot of confusion that goes on, there’s a lot of noise that goes on. . There’s a lot of things that are outside of the routine of an elderly person.”

Willett also recommends that family members watch out for the “trip factor” during the holidays if they have elderly family in the home.

“At Christmas, when they are visiting family, often there’s lots of stuff on the floor, like kids toys and everything,” she said. “(Families) just need be more mindful of the fact that there’s someone in the house that may be a little bit frail. You want to watch the trip factor. You also want to watch the alcohol intake. … Someone who’s on a lot of medications, after two drinks can . fall and break a hip.”

Christmastime can also be very sad for the elderly, Willett said, because the longer they live, the more losses they have experienced.

“They’ve lost a lot of friends and also family members. A lot of seniors have lost not only spouses but adult children,” she said. “I think it’s just a very sad time. There’s a tendency to kind of isolate, or maybe they sit in the corner and drink. You’re watching everyone around you having a good time, but you are not.”

According to Willett, the greatest gift to seniors is time and attention.

“By the time you’re 70, you’ve accumulated so much stuff, but you’d like the opportunities and the time with your friends and family,” she said, suggesting experiential gifts, like lunch or a trip to the art gallery. jmoureau@burnabynow.com

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