Tips for Celebrating the Holidays with Someone with Dementia   

Tips for Celebrating the Holidays with Someone with Dementia

Elderly man with dementia sits in his home waiting for family to come during the holidays.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Manisha Santosh Parulekar, M.D.

The holidays can be a joyful, fun-filled time of year, but they come with a unique set of challenges and stress for people with dementia and their caregivers.

Here are tips from our expert to keep the holiday season bright and stress-free for those with dementia.

Tip #1: Keep a calm, familiar environment.

Creating a festive atmosphere is a fun tradition in many homes, but for people with dementia, this can create confusion and fear. 

“While some decorating is fine, decorations that require furniture to be moved or that are overly bright should be avoided, as well as anything that could be mistaken as food such as fake fruit,” says Manisha Parulekar, M.D., director of the Division of Geriatrics and co-director of the Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health at Hackensack University Medical Center

Music can add ambience to a family gathering, but to help loved ones with dementia, play familiar holiday songs and keep the volume at a lower level.

If your loved one with dementia is in a care facility, it may be best to go to them for the holidays instead of bringing them into an environment that is unfamiliar or new.

Tip #2: Adjust holiday gathering traditions.

If you are celebrating with a loved one with dementia: 

  • Keep the holiday gatherings small or have several small groups of people stop by to celebrate over a period of a few days rather than all at once. 
  • Plan for all gatherings to be at a time of day that is most beneficial for the person with dementia, like the middle of the day when they are not tired.
  • Try not to change the daily routine. 
  • Make sure that the person with dementia has a quiet, safe space they can go to during the gathering, if they become overwhelmed.
  • Keep it brief and be prepared to leave early and/or on short notice based on how the person with dementia is feeling.
  • With people coming in and out of the home, identify someone to be responsible to monitor the person with dementia to avoid wandering. 

Tip #3: Prepare guests.

It’s best to give guests a health update prior to the event so they can be prepared for any changes that may have occurred since they last interacted with the person. Update them on any changes to memory, behavior or physical appearance.

“Guests should also be reminded of proper conduct and communication with the person with dementia, such as entering the room slowly, and introducing themselves and their relationship to the person,” says Dr. Parulekar. “Remind them to not ask, ‘Do you know who I am?’ or to correct, interrupt or criticize their memory.”

You could also inform guests about planned activities and suggest that they bring something like a photo album. “But an activity such as looking at a photo album should not be turned into an interrogation to see what your loved one remembers,” says Dr. Parulekar

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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