For many families the holidays are filled with togetherness, sharing, laughter and memories. However, holidays can also be stressful and tense even for people with healthy brains. For the 6.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias and their caregivers, the holidays can also be stressful, frustrating, impacted by a sense of loss and grief. You may notice your relationship and your holiday traditions changing. Just like your loved one living with dementia, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Trying to maintain family holiday traditions while also providing care for a loved one living with dementia can be difficult. You may be feeling hesitation about inviting family and friends over to share the holiday for fear they will be uncomfortable with the changes they see with your loved one who is living with dementia.

First Steps to a Better Holiday Experience


So what can you do to make this holiday experience better for you and your loved one? Here are some suggestions for creating a comfortable, joyful and memorable holiday season for the person living with dementia and you, their support persons:

1. Consider simplifying your holiday traditions to relieve stress and expectations on yourself and on your loved one living with dementia. Maybe it’s time to make things a little less complicated. For example, change your holiday meal from dinner time to lunch time when your loved one is more alert and engaged. Instead of cooking for everyone, make your holiday meal a potluck and ask your guests to bring a dish, or order your meal from a restaurant. A smaller more intimate gathering might be more manageable and meaningful. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your family, friends and your support services (faith group, community volunteers, neighbors, home care, etc.)

2. Prepare Family and Friends. Connect with family and friends prior to your holiday gathering and let them know of the changes in communication and appearance that they may notice with your loved one. Ask everyone to wear a name tag – you can make a game out of it, and it may help reduce
stress for your loved one. Offer them tips for positive and meaningful connection, how to recognize the signs of distress and what to do to help reduce distress in those situations. Body language can be a tell-tale sign of anxiety in your loved one. Fidgeting, tapping, rubbing the face or knee, wringing hands and bouncing the leg are just a few examples of discomfort or an unmet need like needing to use the restroom.

Ask your guest to simplify communication and offer talking points. Include the person in conversation and in the social engagement.

3. Set up your holiday space for success. Keep the background noise low, i.e. music low and the television off. Instead of having multiple conversations and talking over each other, guide guests to speak one at a time. Direct kids and pets outdoors to minimize loud screaming, barking, toys and clutter. Be mindful of the room temperature – being too cold or too hot may cause distress for your loved one. Ensure there is ample light to see faces, food and walking paths. Use different and contrasting colors when setting the dining table (place mats and dishes) to provide visual cues for your person. Create a quiet and comfortable space for your person to retreat, rest and restore. Prepare activities that help the person unwind such as watching a familiar movie, listening to favorite music, going for a walk, folding laundry.

4. Communication Tips

• Identify yourself and address the person by name.
• Avoid saying “Don’t you Remember.” Instead, use the phrase “I remember when we….”
• Pay attention to your tone of voice and volume – dementia does NOT mean deaf.
• Show your interest by maintaining eye contact.
• Speak slowly and clearly.
• Ask one question at a time, and allow as much time as they need to process and respond.
• Resist pointing out the use of incorrect words, terms, names, dates or times, or arguing.
• Go with the flow. Be flexible and ready to change plans and conversations.
• Focus on feelings, not facts. They may not remember your face or your name, but they will remember how you make them feel.

5. Joyful Engagement

• Include your loved one in the preparation for the holidays and modify the task to meet their abilities. For example: if they can no longer follow a recipe, ask them to help mix in and stir the ingredients you hand them. Whether we live with dementia or not, we all want to feel like we contribute and add value to celebrations.
• Create a playlist or a collection of your loved one’s favorite music and play it during your holiday celebrations. Invite your loved one and guests to dance to the music.
• Work on a holiday craft together, such as a floral centerpiece, a collage, painting or wrapping presents.
• Make a holiday dish or bake a holiday loaf or cookies together.
• Offer lots of hugs, smiles and laughter.
• Be sure your guests acknowledge the person when they come in your door and when they leave.
• Incorporate physical activity such as taking an outdoor stroll, tossing a football, washing and drying dishes.
• Ask the person to help you set up for the holiday festivities to the best of their abilities.
• Thank the person for their help and let them know how much they mean to you.

With a little preparation and empathy, you can have an enjoyable holiday and so can your loved one.

Additional Resources

For additional resources, you can find local support groups at the Colorado Alzheimer’s Chapter. To research Memory Care communities, respite care or  our home care services, please visit one of our communities in your area.

Denver Metro Area

Clermont Park

Rhythms Home Care

Someren Glen

Grand Junction

Cappella of Grand Junction

Colorado Springs

Retreat at Sunny Vista


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