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Dementia Care: Tips for Celebrating the Holidays

Celebrating the Holidays with someone who has dementia can be challenging and unpredictable. Many holidays are bound by tradition, and at times, our first inclination is to keep family traditions intact. However, in dealing with someone with dementia, this may need to be rethought. Your loved one with dementia is understandably confused and even slight changes in their regular routine may cause increased difficulties, which may lead to behavioral changes such as: agitation, anger, or even apathy. Many times, they may not understand what all the “fuss and excitement” of the holidays is about.

Below are some suggestions, which may help to ease the burden of caregiving and keep the holidays happy and memorable, for you and your family. Always keep in mind your loved one’s current level of functioning and adjust accordingly. An important part of caregiving for someone with dementia is learning how to let go of past expectations, live in the moment and simply celebrate those moments of joy that you still share.

Keep the Cheer in the Holidays With These Following Tips

  • Avoid large crowds or areas filled with lots of noise as this can cause confusion. These situations tend to provide too much stimulation for someone with dementia. Some signs of over-stimulation are: frustration, anxiousness, aggressiveness, anger or withdrawal.
  • You may want to evaluate the necessity of travel and never allow someone with dementia to travel alone. However, if do you choose to travel it is best to keep the following guidelines in

Airport Transportation Tips:

  • Remain calm and don’t rush the person when in security areas.
  • Use “family friendly” lanes where available.
  • Always stay together in airports.
  • Schedule flights for early in the day. If possible, fly nonstop.
  • Don’t place medication in checked bags, in case your luggage is lost. Also pack a change of clothes, toiletry items, medical contact information and any legal documents, such as Power of Attorney and insurance information.
  • Pack snacks and water for the trip and have your loved one use the restroom just prior to the flight.
  • Bring any items such as a puzzle book, photo album, knitting kit and playing cards to help keep them occupied.

Car Trip Tips:

  • Avoid long journeys by car.
  • Stop often, but always remain with the person at gas stations and restaurants.
  • Play the person’s favorite music or holiday classics in the car.
  • In hotels, stay in one room with two beds instead of separate or adjoining rooms.

Visiting Your Loved One

If your loved one lives in a long-term community, consider visiting them instead of bringing them to your home for the holidays. People with dementia like having a sense of security and routine. It may not always be in their best interest to take them out of their familiar and comfortable environment.

Here are some guidelines for visiting your loved one:

  • Plan for a short visit
  • Participate in the facility’s holiday programs and events
  • Label all gifts with your loved ones’ name
  • Prepare out of town guests for changes in your loved one’s behavior and appearance
  • Limit the number of daily visitors to a few at a time and try not to have everyone visit on the same day
  • Inquire if the facility has a private dining room that you can use and bring in your own food to enjoy
  • Never ask a person with dementia “Do you remember …?” or “Remember ..?”

If you are planning to bring your loved one home, consider the following guidelines:

  • Try to preserve, as much as possible, the person’s daily routine regarding times for meals, exercise and activities.
  • Try not to become too focused on what once was, but instead emphasize a few favorite traditions. Let go of the rest.
  • Adapt any longstanding traditions to the person’s current For example, if Mom always decorated the tree, help her attach ornaments to the tree, or if Dad always carved the turkey, let him sit in his customary seat and bring the turkey to the table already sliced and let him help fill everyone’s plate.
  • Keep your loved one’s hands busy by decorating sugar cookies, kneading dough, sorting unbreakable ornaments, stringing popcorn or looking at holiday.
  • Utilize sensory memories by filling the home with holiday music or familiar holiday smells.
  • If there are many visitors at one time, designate someone to stay at your loved one’s side to provide calmness and to prevent wandering and confusion.
  • Introduce those who approach the person with dementia, no matter how close a friend or relative may be. For example, “…. And here is your grandson, Peter.”
  • Safety-proof your Avoid candles (a fire hazard), artificial fruit (which may look real and become a choking hazard), blinking lights (which are disorienting) and garlands that obscure stairs {which may be a fall or trip hazard).
  • Avoid shopping malls and stores that are crowded and noisy. Taking a quiet drive to observe holiday lights may be a better
  • Monitor the person’s intake of alcohol.

It is normal for the family caregiver to feel guilty, frustrated or trapped, especially at this time of year. Hopefully these guidelines and suggestions will help to ease the burden of caregiving, and your holidays will be less stressful and filled with togetherness, laughter and shared memories.


Managing Challenging Interactions in Dementia Care

For additional information on providing care to those with dementia, watch our webinar, Managing Challenging Interactions in Dementia Care, with the leading industry expert, Teepa Snow.

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