Dementia Care Tips: Celebrating Holidays

by | October 23, 2023 | Care Tips, Celebrating, Involving Others

If you have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, your holidays will look different. That’s okay. It’s a new chapter.
When you love someone living with dementia, you may be tempted to skip holiday celebrations. You know the holidays will be different, and that makes you sad. That’s a real loss, something you need to acknowledge, and something you need to grieve. But skipping holidays is not the answer.
Instead, learn to Think Differently about the holidays.
  1. Don’t worry about feeling sad. Recognize that holidays can be both happy and sad at the same time.
  2. Use holidays to celebrate fond memories and also to create new memories.
  3. Focus on keeping your family connected during holidays.

The Alzheimer’s journey is challenging and can often create stress and division among families. May your holidays be a time when you intentionally work to keep your family connected. You won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll be able to look back some day and be grateful for times you shared together.

If you have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, your holidays will look different. That’s okay. It’s a new chapter. Traditions may change. But love and joy can and should remain. Focus always on feelings. When the holidays are over, your loved one (and others in the family as well) may not remember everything you did together, but they will remember the feelings of love and comfort and joy.
Here are three tips to help you navigate the holidays:
  1. Plan Ahead. It might be time to have a family meeting. Don’t let the holidays sneak up on you.
  2. Think First About Your Loved One. Ask yourself what’s best for your loved one who has Alzheimer’s, not what’s best for everybody else.
  3. Ask Others to Adjust. Make sure everyone in the family knows to put your loved one first, and ask them to adjust accordingly.

Plan Ahead

Don’t let the next holiday sneak up on you. Schedule a family meeting. Talk about how you can keep family traditions alive even if they need to look different than they have in the past.

Make safety a priority. You may need to take extra precautions because of flu or COVID. (For a complete list of precautions you could take, read “The Holiday Bubble: Celebrating Safely With Extended Family.”

If you have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s, you may have additional safety concerns. For example, if it’s time for your loved one to stop driving, don’t encourage them to drive across the country (or even across town) for a family gathering. Arrange for someone to pick them up and take them home.

Think First About Your Loved One Living With Dementia

Caregivers, you need to look after your well-being. Caring for yourself makes you healthier, and it makes you a better caregiver. If you need the holidays to help you refresh, make that part of your planning. Be honest with your family about your own physical and emotional needs.

Then, when you and your family are planning to get together, ask what’s best for your loved one who has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. Don’t think first about what’s easiest and most convenient for the rest of the family. Start by acknowledging that you all want to include your loved one. Then, think about whether it would be best for your loved one to be included.

After my mother-in-law, Trish, was diagnosed with memory loss in 2008, our family started learning to face Alzheimer’s with joy. When someone in the family was graduating or getting married, we took Trish to celebrate. Thankfully, she remained able to travel for many years. But by 2015, we knew it was more important for her to maintain a daily routine. One of Trish’s grandsons got married in October of that year, and we all very much wanted her to be there. We knew, however, that would not be what was best for her.

If your loved one won’t be with you for the next holiday – for whatever the reason — it’s okay to grieve. The pain and loss are real.

If your loved one can be with you for the holiday, think about how things might need to change to keep them feeling safe, secure, and loved.

For example, if your loved one is having trouble in the kitchen, don’t ask them to cook. I remember the last year we let Trish host Thanksgiving dinner. We didn’t want to admit that Alzheimer’s was taking away her ability to do something she had always loved doing. But cooking a large meal no longer brought her joy, but instead made her feel nervous and stressed. Again, we grieved for what was lost. But by the next year, Trish was “retired” from cooking duties and was able to enjoy being surrounded by her family.

Ask Others to Adjust

Holiday celebrations bond families closer together. Holiday traditions help teach and reinforce values, while providing security and a source of identity.

Some family members may argue for “doing things the way we always have.” This is understandable, but it simply doesn’t work when you have a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. Acknowledge how others feel, but make sure everyone in the family knows you need to prioritize your loved one and explain that they are not able to adjust. It’s up to the rest of the family to make adjustments.

Make sure everyone in your family understands how your loved one is getting along. Encourage everyone to better their understanding of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. We suggest reading these three articles before getting together:

  1. Basic Info About Alzheimer’s and Dementia
  2. Talking With Someone Who Has Alzheimer’s
  3. Not-So-Obvious Dementia Care Tips

No matter how different your holidays look this year, remember why you are celebrating. Treasure new memories, feel the love of family and friends, and cherish each moment of joy.


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Tags: family | grief | holidays | joy
Author Bio: Eric and his wife, Sheryl, founded Songs & Smiles to support families during the Alzheimer's journey. He loves singing and smiling and helping people living with dementia connect with beautiful memories.

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