Helping Loved Ones with Dementia Enjoy the Holidays

The holidays can be a time of equal parts sentimentality and stress for any family. But, when you add in a loved one with dementia, those experiences can intensify.Helping Loved Ones with Dementia Enjoy the Holidays

Learn more from Mara Botonis, author of “When Caring Takes Courage,” about how to help loved ones have more fun during the holidays.

Spending the Holidays with Loved Ones

It seems like every commercial and cover is heralding the holiday season with picture-perfect images to strive for.

Ideas for enjoying the holidays all seem to center around the kind of traditions that you can see and touch. There’s no shortage of voices encouraging you to “get in the holiday spirit” with thoughts on what to do.

But what if all that really matters to you is how you and those around you feel?

Ways to Help Loved Ones with Dementia Enjoy the Holidays

Although your holidays may not be as picture-perfect as those portrayed in the media, you can still help loved ones with dementia enjoy the season by using these tips:

1. Be forgiving.

Forgiving of yourself, your family, your loved one. No one is perfect. Mistakes are going to happen, things may have been said or done by your loved one or other family members that caused stress, but your ability to move past that and set it aside can only support a happier holiday for all of you. Let go of past hurts, if not forever, that at least for now.

2. Be inclusive.

Help your loved one feel like they are involved no matter where they are in the disease process by:

  • Asking for their help with easy activities
  • Encouraging reminiscing
  • Including them in conversations
  • In later stages, simply offering a gentle touch or reassuring word

3. Offer your loved one your best self.

At least for part of each day. You know this version of you, the one that got enough sleep and feels appreciated and loved, the version of you that is kind and patient. The version of you that gives your loved one your undivided attention and avoids correcting them. Find that version of you and be that person for your loved one as often as you can.

4. Redefine success.

Start your day focused on making more moments that really matter by identifying what is most important to you this year. The person we love is battling an incurable, progressive disease. Each holiday after this one will likely be harder on them, with them being able to enjoy things less and less. Keeping this in mind may help you feel better about saying “no” to things that might take you away from what is most impactful for you both. Maybe this is the year you forgo getting the baked goods distributed and instead, this is the year you spent time each day cuddled up on the couch together under a soft warm blanket for a few minutes feeling truly connected.

It’s okay to spend time preparing for and enjoying all of the “things” that make up the holidays, but putting feelings ahead of the festivities for you and your loved one may end up being the best gift, the best way to celebrate the season of all.

How do you help your loved ones with dementia enjoy the holidays? Share your suggestions with us in the comments below.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Karin

    Great article…thank you for the great tips and helpful reminders that life changes gradually when dealing with a loved one who has dementia.

  • Carole

    Include your loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s in SMALL holiday gatherings. They get confused in large groups. Keeping the time short will also help. Oh and don’t forget the cookies and other finger food that they can handle easily. Happy Holidays!

  • This is a great article. This year I took my mom shopping to find things for her. She loved the time that we spend together, and so do I! Afterwards, we went and got ice-cream. It was an amazing day! She was also able to buy some things for her great grandson. So, I agree, spending special time with your loved one is the most important thing you can do!

  • MamaBee

    Including our loved one in the traditions. Like another reader, I took my Mom shopping and she had so much fun being out, seeing decorations and listening to the hustle and bustle. She also can’t stay out of the kitchen! lol! So giving her small things to do makes her very happy.

  • Cheryl

    Light up the Christmas Tree even during the day. She seemed to enjoy looking at the beauty in it. Also have her help you make cookies. It made her feel a part of it all

  • Jan

    I have an electronic photo frame. I put last year’s Christmas pictures on it for my husband to look at. We also love to decorate cookies with the grandchildren.

  • Kitty

    Mom loves to look at the Christmas cards that we received. Even old ones from last year. I keep a small basket of them near her favorite chair and she spends time reading them over and over. The lights and decorations are a delight, as well.

  • Louise

    Keep preparations as simple as possible and give your loved one small manageable jobs.Try not to leave things to the last moment to reduce stress

  • Joanna

    after reading this article ..this christmas will be made more memorable because I plan to treat Mom with more love than ever ’cause we never know what the future brings thankU for the info

    • caitlinburm

      We are so glad that this blog article could help you through this time, Joanna. Thank you for sharing.

  • Renae Cothren

    Oh my, l am just beginning this journey with my momma, Frances Mahan. She is 73 and my daddy passed away July 4, 2013.
    I found this site and I am reading all I can to better assist momma.
    Thank you
    Renae Cothren

  • Char

    My Mom is 98, blind, arthritic and suffering from dementia. Everyday is a struggle for her and she can’t understand why she is still here. I am hoping to do everything possible to help her enjoy these holidays…we just had our first snowfall and I described to her the beauty of the snow as it glistened in the moonlight, hoping that she could still visualize it in her mind…

  • sandrapelletiergray

    Including my aunt with Alzheimer’s in the decorating of a small table top crochet Christmas tree was a wonderful small little project we could do together. Modeling was so natural and when the tree was turned to find an empty spot I could easily more securely hook any decorations that needed it. And we got to enjoy the tree the rest of our visit.

  • Lucia

    My mother is probably in about mid-stage dementia or Alzheimer’s. What do others do when your mother (age 91) refuses to join the family for Thanksgiving, Christmas, any family get-togethers. We have always tried so hard to make her feel welcome, even setting the time and other details to her liking. We have a beautiful home and loving family, and I have no clue as to why she doesn’t want to join us. Going on three years now. We are all at our wit’s end as to how to get her to join the family celebrations. We feel so bad that she prefers to sit in a dark room watching TV — which she says she prefers rather than going out (She insists on living in her home of many years, and we honor that request even though we know it is not the best or safest place for her to be living.

  • Darlyn

    My mom has been in the later stages of ALZ for 3 years now. I visit a few days every week. I have a special bag that I keep packed with things for mom.
    Upon greeting her with a long hug, I take her to a quiet room. I have recorded her favorite music onto my phone and we listen and I sing to her.
    In the bag I keep small candies that melt like M&M’s, mints. I comb her hair and spray it with the most beautiful smelling hairspray.
    Every other week I give her a manicure. She loves to hold hands and I use a quick dry polish.
    I keep hand cream in the bag and do her arms and legs, and give her a back rub.
    We look at pics on my phone.
    In the summer I take her out in the car, with help, and we cruise around to all her favorite places. The beach is her favorite and I park so she can feel the sun on her face and hear the waves.
    Every day I visit is a holiday for my mom. Homemade cookies, Coke from a glass tea cup, she knows she is loved, even though she probably doesn’t know my name.

  • Julie

    This year is our first year with my father in a care home with 5 others with dementia. He still knows us but is increasingly confused and frail. We took a card table, a cloth and our traditional Christmas dinner which we reheated in the microwave when we arrived allowed us to turn his room into our own private dining room and a very nice evening for all of us in this ‘new normal’

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