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Dementia and the holidays: 10 simple tips to remember

Anneliese Peterson | Dec 14, 2017

Holiday music is playing in the background, the smell of sugar cookies fills the air, and kids are squealing in delight. Young or old, these smells and sounds flood our memories of family, warmth, and love. Year after year, we strive to recreate that special feeling of holiday bliss.

Some years we fall short and other years we find our holiday spirit, yet living with loved ones who have dementia can quickly change these traditions. Sometimes this can leave us feeling helpless. The traditions we once knew become harder to recreate, and they seem like a battle too difficult to win. Families living in our Walker Methodist communities often ask us, "What should we do now?"

Dementia During The Holidays

Dementia changes the family dynamic, especially during the holiday season. A time that should be filled with joy and happiness can become masked by pain and hardship. This holiday season we want you to remember these 10 simple tips to help you and your loved one living with dementia.

  1. Relax and make it simple. Don’t overthink the holidays. We know routine is one of the most important elements to consider for someone living with dementia or memory loss, so think about ways you can include the holiday spirit in already-established routines.

  2. Encourage friends and family to send Christmas cards and holiday pictures. Opening them one by one and reading them can bring joy to any visit. Consider displaying them in their apartment or room. Try this smart frame for easy sharing!

  3. Get a few of your family's traditional decorations and place them around their home. This can provide comfort. Decorations like this mini table-top tree might be perfect.

  4. Bring your grandchildren or borrow someone else’s to visit and do a craft project with them. Adults with dementia love to watch and their smile will grow, bringing them a feeling of joy.

  5. Bring out their favorite warm, festive sweaters, help fix up their hair, and do their makeup. Schedule a much-needed haircut and help them feel great about how they look.

  6. Use aromatherapy diffusers and essential oils in your loved one's apartment or home. Peppermint reminds us of our childhood and can boost energy. Frankincense reminds us of our religious traditions and can soothe the soul and promote relaxation. Clove reminds us of apple cider and can assist in respiratory and sinus issues during the cold season. You can place the oil on a cotton ball or a piece of jewelry. You can also use a diffuser to create an atmosphere that smells of Christmas. Just be sure to place it in a safe space.

  7. Don’t try to bake a copious amount of cookies. Instead, pick a cookie they can help knead and press with their hands. This movement of can provide comfort, keep their hands busy, and will make them feel helpful in the process.

  8. Bring the holiday get-togethers to your loved one. Bring the meal already prepared and consider a smaller group for a meal. If your family is large, then consider several smaller meals. They will enjoy the smaller, more frequent events at their traditional meal times.

  9. Attend their senior living communities’ holiday party and join in on the fun. Take a picture with the community Santa. It is a great reminder to stay young at heart and to give back to others.

  10. Give your loved one a simple gift. Some of our favorite ideas..

    1. An iPod filled with their favorite tunes from their youth and their adult years. Or, ask your community if they are a Music and MemorySM community.

    2. Lifelike robotic dogs

    3. Pet with a purpose to keep their hands busy
    4. Cozy socks or lap blankets to keep them warm
    5. These lights can help with seasonal depression

At Walker Methodist, we love to celebrate each and every holiday, but the Christmas season is extra special. Our residents enjoy beautifully decorated common spaces, carolers, concerts, and baking cookies. We also have a beautiful Christmas Eve Chapel service at 10:15 am for all to enjoy at our Minneapolis campus. This service will be broadcasted live to residents at the Health Center, Place, Plaza, Westwood Ridge, Care Suites, and Levande. For more information about the holidays at your loved one’s senior living community, please visit our website or contact the Director of Life Enrichment/Therapeutic Recreation.  

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