Navigating Holiday Celebrations When a Loved One Has Dementia

Living with a person who has dementia often means dealing with one curve ball after another, especially during the holiday season. If you’re responsible for planning holiday get-togethers for your family, how can you create memorable experiences that work for everyone—even loved ones who have dementia? These suggestions will help.

Get educated.

Learn all you can about the type of dementia your loved one has. Knowledge brings understanding. If you and other family members understand dementia, you will be less surprised by the inevitable changes.

Don’t expect too much.

The holidays will be a difficult time for everyone, including the person who has dementia. You will all be adjusting to a new normal, so lower your expectations.

Roll with changes.

One day, your loved one seems like the person you always knew; the next day, you don’t know who they are. It is best to not set yourself up for disappointment because the past will never be again. Instead, put the focus on making this new normal the best it can be.

Create new traditions and memories.

If your loved one lives with you, include him or her in activities as they are able. Keep things simple but praise them for whatever they can help with. This allows them to feel they are contributing. The time may come when large holiday gatherings become too much. When that happens, take a meal to your loved one’s home and create a smaller-scale celebration complete with a festive tablecloth and nice dishes.

If you are the caregiver, make time for you.

Find someone to stay with your loved one so you can go shopping, visit friends, or have a spa day. You deserve it.

Don’t be afraid to initiate.

As your loved one’s dementia progresses, he or she may want to participate in social gatherings, but the ability to initiate contact may slip away. It’s then up to the family to take turns visiting. Memories and events from the past are always a good conversation starter. Look at photo albums together and ask about childhood memories.

Be prepared for repetition.

People with dementia may tell the same stories over and over. Remind yourself that this is okay. It brings them joy and they have no recollection that they are repeating themselves. Each time is the first time to them.

Just be there.

As the disease progresses, conversation may become too difficult for people with dementia. The simple act of sitting quietly while holding your loved one’s hand can be very comforting.

Sing a song.

Music is always a welcome sound to people with dementia, no matter where they are in the disease process. Play familiar songs and sing along. You will be surprised at how well people with dementia are able to join in, even if they haven’t spoken in some time.

Your loved one’s dementia doesn’t have to mean the end of holiday gatherings. With a little planning and foresight, you can create joyful new memories for the whole family.