Living with dementia


Holidays and special occasions

Making the holiday season successful

The holiday season can be particularly stressful for caregivers and people living with dementia. Unfamiliar places, large groups of people, noise and a hectic pace can increase anxiety for those with the disease. Whether the person you’re caring for lives at home or in long-term care, sticking to a regular routine will minimize stress.

Keeping things simple and cherishing the time with family will make the holiday period enjoyable and meaningful for everyone involved.

Special occasions Celebrating the holidays in a long-term care home
Celebrating the holidays at home Holidays and the caregiver

Keep these helpful hints handy:

  • Choose those occasions and traditions that are most important to you and your family.

  • Try to keep celebrations small.

  • Consider hiring help or asking other family members and friends to help, perhaps by bringing food, or coming early to help set up.

  • Ask the person with dementia if she would like to contribute. Even if she can no longer bake cookies, perhaps she can stir batter or add ingredients.

  • Involve her in planning a dinner or talking about whom to invite.

  • Create a new family tradition, like watching a favourite holiday movie, attending a religious service together or singing traditional songs.

  • If you are visiting an unfamiliar home, try to anticipate what you will need, for example, labelling on the bathroom door, non-slip mats for under dishes, and supplies of incontinence pads.

  • If visitors will be staying with you, try to anticipate what they will need to know, for example, about not leaving the front door open or leaving pills or other potentially hazardous items where the person can find them.

  • Remember that quiet, one-on-one activities, such as looking through a photo album together or playing cards, are less stressful than noisy activities with several people, even for someone who used to enjoy that type of activity.

Special occasions

Life brings moments of joy, celebrations that mark milestones, and times of sorrow.
Whether the event is a wedding, birthday, bar mitzvah, funeral, holiday or a visit from someone far away, the special occasion is an opportunity to celebrate people and their relationships.

If you are caring for someone with dementia, you may be tempted to overlook special occasions because of your caregiving responsibility. If the family is celebrating an event, it may be difficult to decide whether to include the person with dementia or make other care arrangements.

When making your choice, it may be helpful to consider these questions:

  • How can you or other family members help the person with dementia have a meaningful time at a special occasion?

  • How can caregivers best care for themselves while caring for a person with dementia at a special occasion?

Tips for helping a person with dementia at a special occasion:

  • Remember that celebrating an event can bring feelings of joy or sadness. If a celebration reminds the person with dementia of events he participated in in the past, he may think that the event being celebrated is from another era. He may speak of people and activities from the past as if they were taking place in the present. Rather than trying to reorient the person to the present, talk about the past event and his memories of similar occasions. Enjoy revisiting the incident through conversation and laughter. If he experiences sadness, empathize with him, reminding him that he is valued; then redirect his thoughts to other things.

  • If you planning an event that honours the person with dementia, hold the activity at a time of day when he is most able to participate. Many people with dementia are at their best in the mornings, though others may need a relaxed morning and are more able to take part in afternoon activities. Consider having an event with fewer guests. Or stagger the times guests arrive so it’s easier for them to interact with the person one-on-one.

  • Choose a familiar place for the event. This reduces stress and provides a feeling of well-being.

  • Whenever possible, involve him in preparing for the occasion. Much of the pleasure of an event is the camaraderie of getting ready and the anticipation of the special day.

  • If he is sensitive to too much stimulation, consider including him in the part of an event that would be the most meaningful. If he enjoys events that are formal or sentimental, consider taking him to the wedding ceremony only. Then arrange for someone to stay with him during the busy event of the reception.

  • If the person with dementia is unable to attend the special occasion, consider bringing the event to the person. Arrange a special visit from the bride or groom, retiree or person being honoured. Plan for opportunities where other family members can visit individually or in small groups to avoid overwhelming the person.

  • Though he may not recall all his past accomplishments or roles in the family story, he is still the person who could tell a funny story, or hosted family gatherings. He is still the family tease or the one who could repair anything. His changing abilities have not altered his importance in the family or the need to be included at special occasions.

Last Updated: 04/11/14
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