Making the Holidays Special in the Face of Dementia

As we get closer to the holiday season, you might be worrying about what your family’s traditions will look like this year if your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. No matter if your family has been navigating this disease for years or if this is the first holiday to be affected, the more you are prepared with ideas to make the holiday safe and special, the better you can celebrate with your loved one.

Here are a few of our tips for creating special holiday traditions amidst dementia’s challenges.

Deck the Halls

Decorating for the holiday season is a wonderful way to kick off the next few weeks of celebrations. However, when you pull out your loved one’s decorations from the attic, don’t bring all of them out. Too many twinkle lights and too much tinsel can be overstimulating and confusing for someone living with dementia. Instead, choose a few favorite pieces to add to the mantle.

Focus on the Senses

Dementia best practices tell us that sensory experiences can be the most effective. When you are planning a visit with your loved one, try to tap into a few of the five senses together. Perhaps smell cinnamon, nutmeg, and other warming spices while you look at and touch favorite family ornaments. Or, listen to and sing along with favorite holiday music while you take sips of hot chocolate.

Arrive Early and Leave Early

Your loved one can certainly still attend family holiday gatherings, but you want to set them up for success. Plan to arrive with them early to the function so they are not walking into a boisterous and crowded celebration. Also, be ready to leave early if they show signs of being anxious or over-stimulated.

Dial Down Traditions

It’s important to keep certain family traditions and involve your loved one. However, you might find more success and enjoyment if you focus on making the tradition a bit more manageable. For example, instead of making 10 types of cookies with your loved one for your family cookie exchange, simply make 1. Your loved one will feel less overwhelmed and more capable with a tradition that is ability-based.

Take a Drive

Finally, consider taking your loved one for an evening drive to look at festive holiday displays around town. Evenings can be a stressful time for older adults living with dementia, making an outing with family even more therapeutic. The best part is that you don’t have to get in and out of the car. Instead, just comfortably relax in the car, drive around favorite neighborhoods to enjoy the lights and maybe turn up some holiday music. You’ll find that this simple excursion becomes the highlight of the season for both of you.

Take Advantage of Celebrations in a Community Setting

If your loved one lives in a retirement community, be sure to take advantage of the family events and holiday celebrations that are happening there. At The Glen, our memory care community, The Cottages, is bustling with holiday cheer! We love to involve our residents as we deck our halls and participate in the sights and sounds of the season. Our team works hard to create family experiences for everyone to enjoy throughout November and December, but our families are welcome to attend any of our programs while they visit.

Here’s to a beautiful holiday season, no matter what it might look like this year.