Planning Dementia-Friendly Holiday Celebrations

For some people, the holiday season is a time of great joy, filled with fun and tradition. However for others, the holidays can be a source of sadness that triggers loneliness or depression.

Additionally, the varied emotions that emerge during this season can be even more challenging for those family members providing care to a loved one LIVING with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of Dementia diagnosis.

Furthermore, this time of year can be significantly taxing on those LIVING with Dementia. The celebratory parties, music and large family gatherings can quickly turn into a major stressor for those with cognitive challenges.

If you have Dementia caregivers or relatives with Dementia in your family/friend circles here are some suggestions to consider this holiday season.


Family Caregivers

  • Don’t expect the caregiver to host all the social gatherings! Consider potluck-style, where several members of the group contribute to the meal. This is a gracious way to give the caregiver a break.
  • Consider giving the ‘gift’ of your time to a Dementia caregiver. Your holiday gift could be offering to stay with their loved one for a couple of hours, while they get out of the house and do a ‘self-care’ activity for themselves.
  • If you are the family/friend that always hosts the holiday gathering; be understanding if the caregiver isn’t able to make your event due to their care duties. Don’t make them feel guilty or pressured. Instead, offer to bring them some leftovers the next day as an alternative solution of inclusion.
  • If you have a caregiving loved one or friend, who lives far away and you won’t be seeing them during the holidays; then consider calling, video conferencing, texting, or simply sending encouraging e-mails to brighten their day and show your support.

Those Living with Dementia

  • Keep routines intact during the holiday season. If your person typically naps from 2-3 pm or goes to bed by 7:30 pm then maintain that schedule and don’t accept offers that will disrupt their familiar ‘rhythm’.
  • Limit large groups and noisy crowds. Festive stimuli can cause increased confusion for those LIVING with Dementia. If you are hosting, consider smaller gatherings with a calm and nurturing vibe that everyone agrees to adhere to.
  • Caregivers, it’s advisable that you alert family members and other guests in advance; of what may occur during their visit or what your parameters are. Examples: “Don’t be offended if Grandpa doesn’t recognize you or calls you by the wrong name.”  “If you come and visit, please limit your stay to a half-hour and we cannot have visitors past 6 pm.”
  • If travel is required; be very cautious of how lengthy the trip will be, the method of transportation, and how long your person with Dementia will be away from their familiar surroundings. For someone with significant confusion and movement issues; taking a long flight or extensive car ride and being away from home for several days isn’t recommended.
  • Modify your traditions, to meet their needs. If your loved one was the person who traditionally cooked the food; give them an apron and ask them to mash the potatoes. Might they fold the napkins or transfer the biscuits from the skillet to the serving dish?
  • Be mindful of having too many precious ornaments or extravagant decorations with flashing lights or lit candles. Instead, choose less décor that isn’t easily breakable and opt for electric candles.
  • If a large family gathering is unavoidable, consider having festive name tags for all guests to ease the burden of remembering names. Additionally, establish a quiet space/area for your loved one with Dementia to retreat if needed.

Please keep in mind that as you gather together with family and friends while modifying your celebrations to accommodate those LIVING with Dementia; you are giving a priceless gift to both the caregiver and receiver.

Happy Holidays!