Creating Meaningful Holiday Moments for Your Loved One With Dementia

The holidays can be a very busy time, with shopping, planning, visits, cooking, and parties. The bustle is part of what we do to celebrate and spend time with loved ones, but it also can bring stress. For people living with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, the holidays can be especially stressful and even disorienting.

As you plan your holiday activities, be sure to factor in the needs and abilities of your loved one living with dementia. You’ll want to do what you can to manage their environment and over-exposure to stimuli, but you also don’t want to keep them from enjoying moments with friends and family members. Planning meaningful activities for the person who is living with dementia can help ensure they are not excluded – and could also create treasured memories for other family members.

Here are a few activities that can be enjoyed with family members or friends of varying ages:

Around the house

Getting the house ready for the holidays often creates lasting memories and might involve longtime traditions. Keep your loved one involved as much as possible:

  • Cook or bake together — help them make their favorite holiday dish or treat.
  • Cleaning – ask them to help you prepare the house for guests as you sweep, vacuum, or set the table.
  • Decorating – put out decorations together, or find an idea for making new ones.

When kids are around

Depending on their age, be honest with kids about changes they might see in their loved one. This can be as simple as explaining that the older person has an illness that affects their memory. Let children know that their older loved one can still enjoy activities with them. This might include:

  • Reading aloud or sharing stories about their own childhood or youth.
  • Playing board or card games, or working on a jigsaw puzzle together.
  • Doing arts or craft projects, decorating cookies, or coloring.

With a group

Whether it’s in their own home or while visiting others, ensure that the person living with dementia has opportunities to be a part of the group, as their comfort level permits. They might enjoy:

  • Looking at family photos.
  • Talking about holidays past.
  • Singing holiday songs.

You know better than anyone how much activity and stimulation are appropriate for your loved one with dementia. Making sure they have the right types of interactions – at the right times of day – will help you ensure they can enjoy another meaningful holiday. And please, remember to find some peaceful space for yourself, as well.