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Expert Offers Advice On How To Help Dementia Patients Cope With Holiday Stress

PARAMUS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- The holidays are a joyful time for many, but for people with Alzheimer's or dementia, this season can be a really difficult time.

Family gatherings, lots of lights and beautiful decorations, endless shopping and 'round-the-clock carols can make the holidays magical for some, but those are the very things that can be disorienting for people with dementia.

"We forget that with changing the familiar significantly and suddenly, it may be a lot for our patients with dementia to take on," said Dr. Manisha Parulekar, chief of geriatrics at Hackensack University Medical Center.

RELATED STORY: How To Help Alleviate Stress For Children With Special Needs During The Holidays

Any changes in routine can be very disruptive for people with dementia, so imagine what the holidays can be like.

It took a few years, but the Cooper family eventually came to realize that the holidays had lost some of their meaning for their mother, Lorraine.

"She's not always sure what time of year it is, so we have to remind her. Once you remind her, then it becomes a little more difficult," son Richard Cooper said.

They've learned how to adapt the holidays so as not to upset their mother.

"We'll see a couple of people. We'll go to my cousin's house and we'll have a celebratory dinner where there's a lot of family members," Richard Cooper said.

Parulekar says to keep gatherings smaller and less overwhelming, and it's also important that guests at family gatherings are aware that someone in the house has dementia.

"Letting others know about the cognitive impairment so the relatives or the other family members who are making the arrangements do count that in when they are making those plans," Parulekar said.

That's especially important when it comes to food and alcohol at parties.

"It can interfere with medications. It can interfere with their behavior process and sometimes not understanding the satiety can be a symptom of dementia," Parulekar said.

Even Lorraine has learned how to adapt.

"If I feel overwhelmed, then I walk out of the room," Lorraine Cooper said.

Some people with dementia are wanderers and at holiday parties with lots of people coming and going, it's easy to forget about Aunt Martha, who could then slip out an open door and get lost in the neighborhood.

Consider leaving the alarm on the front door.

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