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Holidays and Dementia: Finding ways to enjoy the holidays without increasing stressors

The holidays are my favorite time of year. The lights, the food, the shopping, the gift giving…all of the things we do that culminate with the gathering of those we love and hold dearest.

Then there is the music, the chaos, the noise, (although mostly joyful). These things are a recipe for disaster for those living with dementias and their caregivers.

As we swim in this time of year that’s ripe with holiday gatherings, family traditions, and all the wonderful things we look forward to all year, we would like to offer some tips to help prevent holiday disasters if your family is impacted by a loved one living with dementia.

So, you say Mom’s favorite time of year has always been Christmas. It would make sense then, that Mom, who is moderately into her journey with dementia, would enjoy participating in all of the things she used to do.

Maybe not. In fact, likely not. The truth is, no matter how things used to look, dementia eventually changes things about us that may prevent us from relishing the joys of the things we love most.

For those living with dementias:

Long days zap our energy. In addition, disrupting my routine is going to throw me off, possibly causing increased confusion.

Large groups, even full of people we love, are dangerously overwhelming – I will become stressed and exhausted in a short period of time.

Noise, and even beloved family chaos, will overstimulate me.

I may hold it together in the moment, I may even appear to really enjoy myself, but please consider what the aftermath could look like. With my routine interrupted, I may experience an episode of increased confusion. I may experience things like increased falls as a result of exhaustion. I may get angry or agitated for no apparent reason. Did I enjoy some spiked eggnog? Could that result in a fall or another dangerous scenario? Am I getting too much sugar which is readily available in all those delicious treats?

These things are easily considered to be ‘not a big deal’, except when we are living with a dementia, the results of these things could cause catastrophic impacts.

How can we modify what we consider normal in order to make it still enjoyable, not just for Mom, but also for us?

Keep holiday plans simple as they pertain to including the loved one living with dementia. If you are planning a large gathering, host it in an alternate location from their space. Consider a short visit to their home, instead of shuttling them around. Hosting at the person’s home or in their space could create more stress and anxiety as they will want to make sure everything is how it should be, and that’s an unnecessary stressor to be sure!

The Alzheimer’s Association has some great tips to help you plan and prepare:


With Love,

The Lighthouse Keeper