Senior Home Care Blog - Western Cook & Eastern DuPage Counties

Celebrating the Holidays With Someone Who Has Dementia

By Mary L. Doepke, RN


You feel guilty for even thinking it, but the question still looms: “My loved one with dementia won’t remember the holidays, so should I really go to all the trouble of celebrating with them?”

The simple answer is yes.

With all of the stress of the holidays, it certainly would be easier on just about everyone to leave Mom at home while the family celebrates. After all, she requires your constant attention. But there are several very valid reasons to make the effort.

Now is a Gift in Itself

For someone with dementia, life becomes about enjoying the present moment rather than building memories for later. She might not remember it by evening, but while she’s surrounded by family, she will feel the joy of those around her.

Make Your Own Memories

Grandpa might not remember, but you will hold the day’s events as new memories, and perhaps some of the last few you will have with your loved one. When he is gone, you will treasure those photos and memories of your last holiday together.

The Children are Watching

You will be setting an example for younger generations. By your actions you will be teaching even the youngest members of the family the importance of caring for aging loved ones.

Tips for a Happy Holiday

No one said it was going to be easy. Holidays can be challenging for those with dementia. To make things easier, consider these tips.

  • When it comes to holiday decorations, stick to the old stuff. While your mom might not remember the shoes you bought together last weekend, don’t be surprised if she knows exactly where her oldest ornaments and trinkets came from. Bringing out these familiar objects can be comforting to her.
  • Musical memories are among the last to fade. Help your loved ones recall the feeling of past holidays by playing traditional Christmas carols at your family gathering.
  • Don’t take it all on yourself. Ask family members to take turns keeping an eye on your loved one throughout the day.
  • Big family gatherings may no longer be comfortable for someone with dementia. Assess carefully what is best for your loved one. If crowds are overwhelming, plan a series of individual visits instead. If she tends to be most alert in the morning, consider a holiday breakfast rather than dinner. On the other hand, if she’s become a late sleeper, consider a luncheon instead of your traditional early-morning gift exchange.
  • If your loved one is coming to visit family for the holidays, do your best to create a comfortable, familiar place for her. Even if it’s just for the afternoon, have a quiet space available where your loved one can escape or just take a rest.
  • Don’t forget to pack her medications, along with details about how and when they should be taken.

Finally, don't put too much pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday. Instead, take the time to enjoy what could be one of your last holidays with your loved one, and be thankful for the time you have together.