Navigating the Holidays
The holidays can be a challenging time of year, filled with feelings of joy and sadness, and often causing mixed emotions for families living with dementia. While typically a time for celebration, traditions and gatherings, the holidays can also be a time when families may experience a sense of loss for the way things once were.
Changes in ability do not alter a person living with dementia’s importance in the family or their need to be included. By considering new ways of thinking about the holidays and modifying traditions, families can find meaningful ways to celebrate and create memories while accepting the range of feelings and emotions that may arise.
Here are some things to consider when navigating the holidays, with special advice from Emily Kinnaird, Education Coordinator at the Alzheimer Society.
Place and setting
- Choose familiar places for your gatherings to help avoid confusion
- Reduce external stimulation as much as possible (turn down the TV or music to make sure the volume isn’t overwhelming)
- Turn blinking lights to a still mode or off completely
- Celebrate only the occasions and traditions that are most important to your family
“Changes in a physical space, like the addition of a Christmas tree and decorations, can be disorientating for someone living with dementia,” says Emily. “It’s important to adjust your space as it’s needed.”
Timing and scale
- Plan your gathering in the morning or afternoon if the person living with dementia typically goes to bed early
- Keep celebrations short. For longer gatherings, consider only attending the most meaningful part
- Plan for smaller, more personal interactions rather than large gatherings to minimize stress and feelings of being overwhelmed
- Establish a quiet area at your gathering where the person living with dementia can retreat and have someone keep them company when needed
- Plan festivities on a day and at a time that best suits the person or people living with dementia
Emily says the best way to include someone living with dementia in festive plans is to prioritize their needs.
- Do calming activities with the person living with dementia to help reduce overstimulation. Baking, looking through old photos or wrapping gifts are a few activities you can try
- Involve the person living with dementia in preparations and decision-making, especially with tasks they can still do or enjoy
- Bring gifts and items that have meaning to the person living with dementia
- Take your time and don’t rush through activities or visits
- Be open to talking about past events and memories of similar occasions that the person living with dementia may remember
“When my family got together for the holidays, we would try to focus on the needs of our family members living with dementia and the time we spent together,” Emily says. “We’d live in the moment and meet them where they were at.”
Click here to learn more about best practices when visiting someone living with dementia over the holidays.