Here's how to find more joy when celebrating with loved ones who have dementia.
The holidays are a time for bringing together family and friends to celebrate traditions and make new memories. This is a joyous time for many, but if you are sharing the holidays with a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it can also be stressful for everyone.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may change the way the holidays look for families affected by the disease. The person with dementia may have a difficult time handling the changes that come from a disruption in their routine. Caregivers may find themselves with extra work. And family members may experience a sense of sadness as they think back to the way things used to be.
To make your holiday celebrations as enjoyable as possible when sharing them with someone with dementia, keep these tips in mind:
- Manage expectations. The more realistic you can be about what to expect from the holidays—and from your loved one—the less disappointed you will be. Preparing family members for changes they will experience can also help.
- Create a comfortable space. Make the space as comforting as possible for the person with dementia. Tone down decorations, avoid blinking lights and play familiar music (but not too loud).
- Involve the person. Get your loved one involved in celebrating the holidays as much as they are able. Some ideas may include asking them for help with simple decorating or baking tasks, discussing gift ideas, opening holiday cards together or planning the holiday menu.
- Maintain routines. People with dementia often have a hard time adjusting to changes in their routine, so try to keep things as normal as possible. Stick with their usual schedule for activities, treatment, medication and meals.
- Adjust gatherings. It can be disorienting for a person with dementia to be around a lot of people so adjust get-togethers to make things more enjoyable for everyone. Keep gatherings to fewer people, plan at the best time of day for the person and keep them brief.
- Visit in their environment. It can be stressful for a person with dementia to be in a new environment, so it may be best to celebrate with them where they live. If they are in a care facility, have people visit on different days or participate in planned activities for the residents.
- Prepare visitors. Let others know what to expect before they visit with your loved one. Update them on any differences they may notice since their last visit, including changes to memory, behavior or appearance. Provide tips on how best to communicate with the person.
- Keep the person safe. Take extra precautions to keep your loved one safe. Check for tripping hazards and survey the environment for anything that may potentially be dangerous (such as lit candles, sharp objects, accessible medication or food and drinks they shouldn’t eat). Keep the person as protected as possible from illness by making sure they’re up to date on COVID-19 vaccines/boosters and have gotten a flu shot. Don’t allow anyone who is sick to be around your loved one and consider asking everyone to wear a mask.
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Date Last Reviewed: September 16, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD