A senior man in glasses helps decorate a tabletop Christmas tree while a senior woman sits in a recliner looking at a book.

Making the Holidays Dementia-Friendly

Last updated: February 2023

The holiday season is full of joy for many but can present extra difficulties for people living with dementia. What used to be enjoyable for your loved one might now be stressful and overstimulating.

My mom is early on in her Alzheimer's diagnosis and is still very independent. Even so, she struggles with some of the holiday hustle and bustle.

Planning and shopping for gifts, holiday parties, and disruptions in routine can be a struggle. Here are some ways to help with the difficulties.

This is your excuse to simplify

My mom has always loved gift-giving and shopping, but now it can be overwhelming.

We figure out a budget together and sometimes brainstorm some ideas. We keep this very simple and only include close family members and sometimes caregivers.

Even though I involve Mom as much as I can, much of the decision-making and shopping falls to me. So I make a shopping plan that works for my schedule and buy the gifts for her.

Your loved one can also give money or a nice card - or nothing at all! Unless it brings them joy, let this be your free pass to skip the time and expense of holiday gift-giving.

Make traditions dementia-friendly

Mom has always loved to wrap gifts, but that can be tricky for her now too.

Last year I thought it would be fun to turn on Christmas music and ask her to help me wrap all the gifts, but she was too tired by the end. This year I saved a few gifts for her to wrap, and I did the rest.

If wrapping gifts with wrapping paper is too complicated, gift bags and tissue paper can make it easier, and your loved one can still be involved.

Stick to routines

Mixing up the schedule can be exciting, especially for fun holiday events, but not for people with dementia. We try to stick to a routine as much as possible.

Our family has scaled way back on holiday activities. No more Christmas events every weekend or back-to-back activities during the day. We keep it much more chill and pick and choose the most special activities of the season to attend.

Or we just arrange for Mom to do activities that we know she'll enjoy. Thankfully, most businesses are only closed on the actual holiday, so Mom can continue to go to her exercise classes at the gym and go on her favorite errands.

If you have caregivers or other regular programs, make sure to discuss ahead of time about their holiday availability. I try to make sure there aren't gaps in Mom's normal activity schedule but I also want to respect our caregivers' time with their own families.

Plan out gatherings

If you can safely gather for the holidays this year, planning for your loved one and yourself as a caregiver is a good idea. Don't feel pressure to host just because you always have. Focus on what's most important and let go of the rest.

Or maybe you have been invited to someone else's gathering. Sometimes we choose not to bring Mom along because it will be too stressful for her to make small talk, struggle to remember guests' names, or not know where we are if we step out of the room.

If your loved one is involved, stay attentive. Help them if they are overwhelmed, make sure they get enough to eat, and include them in conversations and meal preparation or cleanup.

It can be helpful if there is a quiet place for your loved one to retreat to, maybe with a TV. Be ready to leave early or make transportation plans so your loved one can leave when they are tired.

Enjoy the season

Take care of yourselves and enjoy the holiday season with your loved ones. The holidays might look a little different, but with some planning and modifications - they can still be special.

How are you planning to tackle the holiday season and keep it dementia-friendly? Let us know in the comments, or start a forum thread on the topic!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AlzheimersDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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