Tips for Holiday Gatherings When a Loved-One Has Dementia

The holiday season can be filled with the joy of getting everyone together to share good food, fond memories and perhaps a little liquid cheer.  But when a loved one has dementia, the noise and sometimes chaos of the season can result in added stress for caregivers and cause agitation for elderly adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia. 

While we want to include our loved-ones of all ages in family celebrations and gatherings, it may be time to modify traditions to avoid overstimulation from too much noise, activity and changes in routine.   Instead of including a senior with dementia in large group gatherings, try planning smaller get-togethers that will be a bit more subdued.   Seniors often enjoy shorter, smaller visits from family members that are spread out over the weeks leading up to a major holiday or just following. 

Picking the time of day when an elderly relative or close friend is at their best is also important to keep things running smoothly.  Patients with dementia often suffer agitation in the evening, sometimes called “sundowning,” and may be less likely to participate in activities later in the day.   Check in with caregivers to help plan a good time for a holiday activity that caters to the interests of the older adults; perhaps decorating cookies and singing carols or watching a football game together.  Playing familiar holiday music or looking at a family photo albums can be comforting for someone with dementia.  Above all keep a positive outlook, avoid criticism and try to stay relaxed.

If possible, create a quite space where a visiting grandparent or other elderly loved one can rest and if necessary calm down after too much excitement.   Rich holiday foods and alcohol may interact with some medications and should probably be limited to prevent digestive or behavior changes.   Parents or other adults should supervise young children when they interact with an older adults with dementia who can sometimes have unexpected angry outbursts.

Planning is key to having a happy celebration this holiday season that includes everyone in the family.  Discussing plans ahead of time with the individual and other family members can help prevent mishaps.   To learn more about how to prepare for the holidays and successfully include someone with dementia, follow this link for more holiday survival tips from the Alzheimer’s Association.