Header image: Coping with dementia during the holidays

Tips on making the holidays more enjoyable for those with dementia

There’s just something so wonderful about the holidays. Friends or family gathered around, a tasty feast from those who enjoy cooking, twinkling white lights, maple pumpkin scented candles, buying ourselves gifts… 

The holidays aren’t delightful for everyone, though. For those with dementia or caregiving for a loved one challenged with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or another cognitive diagnosis, the holidays can be especially challenging.Whether you’re traveling to see a loved one with memory issues, or visiting someone at nearby, here are a few tips that might help make the holidays more enjoyable.


Schedule a limited amount of time to celebrate

It is important to understand that distractions, noise and higher-than-usual activity levels in the home can be overwhelming. Limiting activity and noise can be helpful to ensure your loved one doesn’t get confused or overwhelmed, according to Sun Health’s Memory Care Navigator Marty Finley, M.Ed.

Consider establishing a short window of time for visiting hours to celebrate, balanced by quiet time and activities that the person is used to doing.

If you decide to allow an hour or two for celebrating, then consider turning off holiday music, closing window blinds and turning the lights off on the tree during the rest of the day to keep a sense of normalcy. Keeping holiday decorations to one room of the home and out of the person’s bedroom will also give them a space to help them rest or calm down.


Be sure you have their focus during a conversation

To keep interactions positive and reduce stress, be sure you have the attention of your loved one before you speak. Conversations across a table or in a crowded room can be difficult. Try speaking their name and making sure to have eye contact to help them connect with your voice and follow the dialog.

Keeping questions simple also helps. The Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors by the National Center on Caregiving suggests using the same wording when you repeat something, rather than rephrasing it. If you can add visual cues or prompts it may be beneficial, too. For example, if offering a choice of two side dishes while eating, holding one up in each hand or pointing to each one can facilitate better understanding.


Help them feel included

Dementia can be isolating, especially when a loved one is confused by the festivities. To keep the person feeling part of the celebration, take time to reminisce, deliberately include them in conversation, and ask for their help with simple activities they can successfully manage. This will help them enjoy the experience more. If they’re in later stages of dementia, a reassuring word or gentle touch is very appropriate, says the Alzheimer’s Association.

No matter what you choose to do, the time and care you show will be meaningful. Regardless of what stage of memory loss your loved one might be currently experiencing, your actions and loving support goes a long way.  Remembering their challenges can help you deal with the difficulties with patience and a calm mind.

If you are seeking resources to help with dementia, Sun Health offers a support group for caregivers, the no-cost Memory Care Navigator program, classes to keep the brain fit and more. Visit our website  for details.


(Originally published Nov. 8, 2018; last updated Jan. 12, 2019.)

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