6 Tips to Enjoy the Holidays for Seniors with Dementia


When an older loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, you wouldn’t want to leave them out of the holiday festivities; instead, you would want to see to it that they were a part of everything. Whether you plan to bring your loved one with Alzheimer’s home to a party you’re throwing, or take them to a gathering elsewhere, the following tips and suggestions for how you can modify holiday activities, can be useful to keep in mind.

Avoid overly crowded parties

The excitement of being in a large group of people, and the associated noise and activity, can be too much for a person with dementia. Holiday parties, however, don’t have to be big and noisy just because you’ve always had them that way. Changed circumstances require that you try a few modifications to help make your parties more acceptable. For instance, rather than host a big party for everyone in your extended family, you could break it down into two or three parties with smaller groups of relatives, over a couple of weekends. Alternatively, you could limit your party to just immediate family to keep the numbers down.

Organize all important activities at the right times of the day

People who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia tend to function better at certain times of the day than others. It can help you plan for holiday activities that go smoothly, to make note of the best times for your loved one, and to make the best use of them. For instance, if your loved one tends to be anxious in the evenings, you could organize your holiday party in the afternoon. Or, if they only wake up late in the mornings, you could take that into account when you plan a gathering.

Plan for quiet one-on-one meetings

Wherever you may plan your holiday party – at home, or at the home of a relative — you need to keep in mind that boisterous gatherings can be anxiety-provoking for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. To help them stay calm and collected, it can help to set aside a room where they can be by themselves, away from the commotion — where family and friends can come in for one-on-one greetings and conversation.

Think of activities they’ll like

Celebrating through the holidays isn’t just about attending parties — seniors tend to value regular family activities the most. Whether it’s sitting down to watch a game on television with everyone, baking cookies, or listening to oldies together (listening to music is often a favored activity for people who suffer from dementia), setting time aside can help make for a wonderful holiday experience. Music can be so important, you could even put a family sing-along together with a few well-loved old tunes, or ask the children to sing traditional holiday songs.

Make sure there are no big dietary changes

Older people tend to have sensitive digestion. Unfortunately, people with Alzheimer’s, when they are presented with a range of treats at a Christmas or Thanksgiving party, tend to forget to be careful about what they eat. Alcohol that they are unaccustomed to, together with rich food, could both cause digestive problems, and cause adverse interactions with medications. In addition, alcohol and sugar tend to cause people with dementia to lose their calm. It’s important to pay careful attention to what your loved one with Alzheimer’s eats and drinks during the holidays, especially when there is a party.

Make sure your loved one gets plenty of time with the kids

The holidays offer older loved ones with dementia a great opportunity to spend time with their grandkids and other children of the family. It can help to talk to the children ahead of time, to explain what Alzheimer’s or dementia is like, and to reassure them that they have nothing to fear. You could, for instance, explain to the children that any strange behaviors or bursts of anger aren’t their fault, and that they aren’t to be taken the wrong way. It would also be a good idea to have someone in the room to supervise when your loved one spends time with the children, in case they act in an unexpected way.

Finally, it’s important to take care of yourself even as you work hard to ensure that your loved one with dementia enjoys themselves. If you’re stressed out, you need to remember that your loved one could mirror your stress. You don’t have to wait for someone to suggest taking a break. Instead, resolving by yourself to take a brief nap once every couple of hours can help make sure that both you and your loved one are at your best all through the festivities.


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