Supporting a Senior with Dementia this Holiday Season

Santa isn’t the only one making a list and checking it twice!  Chances are at this given moment, you have multiple to-do lists floating around your home or saved in your phone.  There is a list of gifts to purchase, a list of hors d’oeuvres, entrees, and desserts for your holiday menu, a list of groceries for the aforementioned menu, a honey-do list of the last minute home improvements needed before hosting… you get the idea!

People everywhere are busy preparing for the holiday season in a variety of ways.  Caregivers are no different; in fact, the holidays can pose special challenges for people with dementia, their families, and their caregivers.  So, while you’re busy making your lists, be sure to take a moment to ensure that your loved one feels included and loved.  We’ve compiled a list of ways to help you navigate holiday preparations and family get-togethers while caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.


Decorating for the Holidays 

A familiar environment is particularly important to dementia patients for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, it helps them to remain calm.  Drastically changing their environment can add to their confusion and disorientation, causing them to grow upset and frustrated.  When decorating their space for Christmas, there’s no reason to transform their home into a Winter Wonderland.  Keep things simple and slowly add decorations to their space.  You may consider a tabletop tree with a handful of sentimental ornaments.  This should be placed in a location that does not obstruct any main paths within their home, keeping safety a priority.  Help them add a few other decorations such as safely-secured stockings, a nativity set, and a wreath on their front door.  The idea is to add a few touches of decor that remind them of the holiday season without creating confusion or causing them to become overwhelmed.


Partaking in Holiday Festivities

There are always countless fun events at Christmastime.  Trying to bring your loved one along to everything could potentially create a stressful environment for all involved.  Instead, consider which ones would be most appropriate and enjoyable, without being overwhelming.  Do you have any family traditions that your loved one has always enjoyed?  Perhaps you’ve alway attended a holiday tea or the lighting of the bonfires on Christmas Eve.  Use your best judgment to determine which outings are best for you and your family.  An evening ride to view Christmas lights is also a calm way to partake in the merriment.  Alternatively, you can stay in with your loved one and enjoy a favorite holiday movie with a warm cup of cocoa.  Involving them in activities like adding ornaments to a tree or listening to carols is a simple way to enjoy the season together.  Consider sharing Christmas pictures from years past and talking about traditions that you’ve enjoyed over the years.  Even in a state of cognitive decline, individuals may remember past holidays clearly, despite their inability to remember recent events.


Engaging in Christmas Crafts and Activities

Mentally-stimulating activities can help boost cognitive abilities and ease dementia symptoms.  Additionally, engaging in activities centered around arts, crafts, and music can boost an individual’s esteem, while providing them with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.  Decorating ornaments, making a wreath, coloring a card, or knitting a scarf are just a few examples of activities your loved one may enjoy.  Be sure to provide them with something that’s simple enough to complete without becoming frustrated.  Spending some time in the kitchen, baking holiday treats, may also prove to be engaging and entertaining for your loved one.  Once again, be sure to tailor the activity to their needs and abilities.


Celebrating on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Rooms full of people, glasses clinking, children squealing, tablescapes filled with all of the flavors of the season, piles of wrapping paper, and festive tunes are all things you can expect at holiday gatherings.  For many, this brings great joy and excitement during Christmastime.  For someone living with dementia, this likely causes feelings of confusion, anxiety, and disorientation, among other things.  Take special care in planning your holiday celebration so they can be included without experiencing these negative feelings.  Consider shortening the length of time that they are exposed to all of the merriment.  Additionally, try to keep them on their schedule or as close as possible to their daily routine.  Serve them their Christmas lunch or dinner at the same time that they’re accustomed to having their meals any other day.  Keep their portions similar in size as well.  Create a safe and relaxing space within your home where they can retreat, should the need arise.  You may prepare a comfortable chair with a warm blanket in a quiet room where they can go and rest.  If the room is not available to create a separate space, consider offering headphones with instrumental Christmas music as an alternative option for them to disconnect.