Tips to Celebrate the Holidays with a Loved One Living with Dementia

The holidays are a time for sharing cherished traditions together. For families of individuals living with dementia, however, even simple celebrations can present challenges. 

If you’re searching for ways to make the season memorable and meaningful for everyone, the more you understand dementia and the effect the holidays can have, the better. Planning can help you reasonably navigate this time of year and create the most inviting and calming environment possible. 

Dementia and the Holidays: Why It Can Be Complicated

It’s helpful to recognize the unique challenges people with dementia often face, which can make seasonal celebrations more difficult:

  1. Overstimulation: Bright lights, loud noises and large gatherings can be overwhelming. Sensory overload can cause confusion and agitation.
  2. Disrupted Routines: People with dementia typically do much better with a routine. Holidays often mean traveling or changes in daily schedules, which can be disorienting and stressful.
  3. Unfamiliar Environments: If the holidays won’t be spent at home, understand that new surroundings or unfamiliar places can be confusing and may lead to wandering or increased anxiety.

Dementia and the Holidays: Tips to Reduce the Stress and Increase the Joy

While the holiday season may require a different approach when caring for a loved one with dementia, it can still be a time filled with love and special memories. By understanding the challenges—and preparing beforehand—you can create a more comfortable atmosphere for your loved one and help enjoy the holidays a little more yourself.

  1. Keep It Simple:
    • Limit the number of events or gatherings your loved one attends. Too many outings or visitors can be overwhelming.
    • Simplify holiday decorations. For instance, consider using soft white lights instead of flashing colored ones.
    • Intimate gatherings rather than large parties can be more successful for combining the holidays and those living with dementia.
  2. Maintain Routines:
    • As much as possible, try to keep your loved one’s daily routine intact. Consistency can provide comfort and reduce anxiety.
    • If there’s a time when everyone will get together, consider scheduling it when your loved one is usually most alert and calm.
  3. Create a Safe Environment:
    • If you’re hosting a gathering, designate a quiet room where your loved one can retreat and relax if things become too overwhelming.
    • Make sure the environment is secure to prevent wandering. Inform guests about the importance of not leaving doors or gates open.
  4. Engage in Familiar Activities:
    • Those with dementia can still enjoy the holidays. Participate in activities your loved one likes, such as listening to holiday music, baking together or looking through old photo albums.
    • Start new, simpler traditions that can become familiar over time, such as watching a favorite holiday movie or taking a relaxing walk to see neighborhood lights.
  5. Prepare Other Family Members:
    • Inform relatives and close friends about your loved one’s current condition. Share communication tips, such as speaking slowly or using non-verbal cues.
    • Consider sharing a brief update with guests ahead of time so they know what to expect, which can make interactions smoother and more enjoyable for everyone.
  6. Limit Travel:
    • Avoiding long-distance trips is usually best. If travel is necessary, ensure you have all the essential items your loved one may need and try to maintain their routine as much as possible.
    • When preparing for the holidays with a loved one living with dementia, opt for familiar destinations or places similar to their current living environment.
  7. Use Reminders and Memory Aids:
    • Visual cues can be helpful. Consider using holiday-themed memory aids, like a calendar with festive stickers marking events.
    • Gentle verbal reminders about who is visiting or what activities are planned can also be reassuring.
  8. Seek Support:
    • Don’t shoulder the holiday responsibilities alone. Enlist the help of other family members or consider professional respite care for a short duration.
    • Connect with support groups or other families who are navigating the same journey. Sharing experiences and advice can be incredibly beneficial.
  9. Stay Flexible:
    • While it’s essential to plan, staying adaptable is equally crucial. Your loved one may have good days and bad days. If they seem particularly distressed or overwhelmed, it’s okay to adjust your plans accordingly.
  10. Cherish the Moments:
    • One of the best tips when approaching the holidays with someone living with dementia is to focus on creating treasured moments—even if they’re simple. A heartfelt conversation or shared laugh is worth more than any elaborate event.
    • Remember to capture these moments. Photos or short videos can be a source of joy for both you and your loved one, providing a bridge to cherished memories.

At Presbyterian Village North, we support both the individual and the family as they navigate the dementia journey.

We focus on the quality of life for our residents with a staff specially trained in the best practices of dementia care. Residents make their homes in private apartments while benefiting from the daily interactions with others and participating in our exercise, music, art and cognitive therapies.

We also provide the following services:

  • Chef-prepared cuisine—3 meals per day with varied, all-day dining options
  • Security system in all buildings ensures protection and safety
  • Secure entry/exit/windows in our Memory Support neighborhood
  • Secure Outdoor Patio in our Memory Support neighborhood
  • Safety checks every two hours as needed
  • Emergency call system with pendant
  • Escort assistance as needed to and from dining and activities
  • Convenient access to mobile healthcare services onsite including dental, podiatry, optometry, audiology, mobile x-ray and lab, and dietician
  • Full onsite pharmacy
  • 24/7 onsite licensed nurse

Presbyterian Village North is a compassionate resource for your loved one and your family. Please call 214-355-9015 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personal visit to our community.