Being together can be one of the great joys of the holidays. It’s special when family and friends “who are dear to us gather near to us once more.” For many families, it’s fun just to “hang out” and visit, or perhaps get out the Monopoly board, turn on a football game, or head to the mall or the movie theatre. Those things might have worked just fine in the past, but now you need some holiday activities to enjoy with someone who has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Monopoly’s too complicated. The football game’s too confusing. And the mall and the movie theatre are overwhelming.
My wife, Sheryl, and I know what it’s like. We lost Sheryl’s mom, Trish, to Alzheimer’s in 2019, but while she was still with us we always wanted to include her in our holiday gatherings. She certainly enjoyed being around the family. But we learned we needed to come up with a different set of games and activities that all of us could enjoy together. We also learned it was okay at times to send part of the family (i.e. the restless children or teenagers) out while a smaller group stayed at home to enjoy a quieter activity.
Celebrating holidays together requires careful planning and a different way of thinking. If you haven’t seen it, please check out my article on 7 Tips for Celebrating Holidays During the Alzheimer’s Journey. Our family had to make adjustments over the years. At first, we could still take Trish out to a movie … if we bought tickets in advance, arrived early, and made sure we had seats on the aisle. Or, we could all try out a new board game … if we patiently repeated rules as often as needed. As the disease progressed, however, we learned to enjoy simpler activities.
These activities helped us all slow down a little, allowing us to enjoy the season and connect better with each other. Here, some of our favorite ideas and suggestions for holiday activities to enjoy with someone who has Alzheimer’s. For your convenience, we’ve included some links to products from Karaoke Version and Amazon. Please note: Songs & Smiles is a Karaoke Version Affiliate and an Amazon Associate, so we may receive a small commission if you purchase through a link on this page.
Games With Simple Rules
Try playing games with a limited number of rules. Then gently guide your loved one as they play. Our family enjoyed playing Yahtzee and Aggravation with Trish, and she enjoyed playing Bingo at the memory care facility where she lived. You might also try Chutes and Ladders or – especially if children are playing, too – Candy Land.
Card Games With Simple Rules
If your loved one often played cards, they may be able to play some familiar games longer than you’d think. When bridge and rummy stop being fun, try easier games such as Kings Corner, Uno, or Go Fish. For a very simple and easy-to-guide game, play War. Your loved one living with dementia may also enjoy playing Solitaire, especially if you’re helping a little.
Prepare a simple craft project. Clear a well-lit table, and gather any necessary supplies in advance.
To make preparation even easier, purchase a complete kit. Our family enjoyed the ALEX Toys Craft It’s A Christmas Banner Decoration Kit. It’s very colorful, and it is peel and stick, so you don’t need scissors or glue.
Check out our article about Watching Musical Movies With a Loved One Living With Dementia. For Christmas, try It’s a Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas Carol, or White Christmas.
Looking at Christmas Lights
My mother-in-law enjoyed riding in the car to look at Christmas lights. You can do this on the spur of the moment, of course, but a little pre-planning may make your outing more enjoyable. Scout out a few neighborhoods in advance, and then plan a route. Make sure your car is clean, especially the windows. Take some water and snacks.
Make music part of your trip. Pick out some of your loved one’s favorite CDs or create a playlist of their favorites on your phone. Select either singalong favorites or some quieter background music.
Our family enjoyed singing karaoke together. My mother-in-law wouldn’t take the microphone herself, but she enjoyed watching, and she usually sang along. We hooked up a small karaoke machine to the TV in our living room, and we found a few Christmas CDs. You might want to try an online karaoke service. We suggest KaraFun. You can purchase a Party Pass for $5.99 for two days of unlimited access.
If you’re gathering your own karaoke files, here are a few of our favorite Karaoke Version Christmas videos:
If your loved one living with dementia has fond memories of singing Christmas carols, plan a time of caroling. Your family may enjoy sitting around the living room or the dining room table singing songs. Or, you may want to go caroling together in your neighborhood.
Let the neighbors know what time you’re coming, and don’t overdo it. Caroling at two or three houses is plenty.
Check out our downloadable PDFs of Christmas Carol Lyrics.
More Ideas for Holiday Activities to Enjoy With Someone Who Has Alzheimer’s
Add your own ideas in the comments below. What works for your family might work for other families as well.
We hope your holiday season is filled with joyous moments of love and connection.