For most families, the holidays are filled with visiting, reminiscing and sharing time with family, friends and neighbours.  If you are caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer disease (AD), the holidays might also bring mixed feelings; anxiety, stress and/or questions about the person’s ability to be involved in holiday activities.  It is important to remember that these feelings are normal and they are experienced by many others who are trying to balance the demands of caregiving with the hectic pace of the season.   Be sure to share the responsibility for planning with other family and friends, and delegate responsibility where possible, particularly if you are the primary care provider.

Finally, treat yourself – rest and relaxation are an important part of caregiving.  If you are invited to functions that the person with AD or dementia cannot attend, and you can arrange for care, go yourself and enjoy the chance this gives you to be with your friends and family.  Make sure you do not give up the things you enjoy.  Taking time for yourself, away from this role, can lift your spirits and relieve the holiday stress.  Self-care is not selfish, but an essential aspect of caregiving.

To help ensure a fun family gathering, here are some tips to help both people with dementia and their families and friends:

  1. A nap in the afternoon can help some feel more rested for the gathering.
  2. Invite the person to chip in: get her to help with simple tasks, like peeling potatoes.
  3. Do limit the number of guests to around ten so neither of you are overwhelmed by this new situation.
  4. Limit loud music as it’s distracting – get the kids to wear their headphones!
  5. Make sure everyone sits at the table. You can enjoy the fruit of your labours, and the person will also feel part of the group.
  6. Encourage family not to be shy. One-on-one chats will be appreciated by all.
  7. Ahead of time, share tips with the family to help minimize concerns and improve communication. Smiling and using humour are always delightful.
  8. Be aware! If the person with dementia appears restless or irritated, take her away from the party for a break.
  9. Kitchen parties are the best! Ask for help with cleaning up after the meal.
  10. As the evening winds down, consider an activity better suited for someone with dementia, like looking through old family photos, which can stimulate reminiscence.


If the person with dementia resides in a LTC home, a change of environment might be too stressful for him/her.  It is important to consider where the safest place is for your relative to celebrate the holidays – this may not be at home.  For many people with dementia, being taken away from familiar surroundings is overwhelming.  Visits from family members that the persons cannot remember or does not see very often may prove distressing.  A change in environment, combined with excess noise and activity can increase confusion and cause anxiety.  It is recommended that you consider a ‘trial run’ – bringing the person home for a short visit before the holidays – to see how it goes. You may have to accept that, although you would like him/her home for the holidays, it might not be in that person’s best interest any longer. People sometimes find it hard to visit a person with memory loss or dementia.  The following are suggested activities that you can involve your friend in when visiting for the holidays.

If the person can still read:  take large print song sheets of holiday music or holiday tapes and sing along with the songs.

Bring holiday pictures from years ago and tell stories about the people in the photos, e.g., “I recall this Christmas, Mom.  We all had the chicken pox and you give me a wonderful ballerina doll.”

Bring some home baking and a thermal pot of tea and have a tea party with a holiday theme. Bring some simple gifts to wrap and do this together.  Address Holiday cards yourself and have your friend apply the stamps.  Read aloud the cards received for the season and tell a story about the person who sent the card.

Persons living with dementia have many needs, as do their caregivers.  Contact your local Alzheimer Society for information on dementia, AD, care and support strategies and join us for the Gertrude Cetinski Annual Lectureship, January 25th.  Topic: “Dementia Care is about Understanding Communication”. Call 905-529-7030 or 1-888-343 1017 to register or for more information.