For many people, the holiday season is a joyful time when loved ones gather to celebrate with one another. For families affected by dementia, this time of year can be particularly stressful. A little pre-planning can go a long way towards making your holidays safe, less stressful, and enjoyable.

Creating a festive and calm space

While trees, wreaths, garland, candles and figurines are staples for many holiday decorations, even slight changes to an environment can cause agitation and confusion for people with dementia. To help prevent added confusion, include your family member in the decorating to the extent that makes sense. Looking at some of the decorations, especially ones you’ve had for a long time, can bring about fond memories.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Tone down decorations. Avoid blinking lights or large decorative displays that can be overwhelming. Avoid decorations that require you to rearrange a familiar room.
  • Pay attention to potential safety hazards. Avoid burning candles and fragile decorations that are in easy reach.
  • Play familiar holiday music. Adjust the volume to be relaxing.

Adapting holiday activities

In addition to creating a safe and calm space, it is best to adapt some of your regular holiday festivities to help your family member with dementia to enjoy the holiday season:

  • Prepare together. Decorate cookies, open holiday cards or make simple decorations. Focus on the task rather than the outcome.
  • Host a small gathering. Aim to keep celebrations quiet and relaxed.
  • Plan a gathering at the best time of day for the person with dementia. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible.
  • If having guests at your house, provide a quiet place for your loved one with dementia to have time alone, if needed. Or plan to visit with one person at a time instead or large groups.
  • Plan meaningful activities such as reading a favorite holiday story, looking at photo albums or watching a favorite holiday movie.
  • Keep outings brief. If attending a gathering, plan to stay a short time or be prepared to leave early. Make sure there is a place to rest or take a break.

Adjusting travel

For some, travel will be required to visit other loved ones during the holidays. With a little preparation and realistic expectations, people with dementia can travel safely.

  • Keep the schedule or daily routine in mind when making plans.
  • Plan to take the most direct route. Avoid layovers, if possible. Try to keep travel to four hours or less.
  • Be sure your loved one has an identification bracelet with contact information in case you are separated.
  • Provide ample time during your travels. Do not cut your time close whether driving or flying. Allow plenty of time for any unexpected situations.

The holiday season can be a joyous time for everyone with a little bit of planning. Simplify celebrations, plan ahead and set boundaries are a few ways to help you minimize stress and create a pleasant holiday experience for everyone, including your family member with dementia.

To learn more about caring for a family member with dementia, join us each Wednesday at 2 p.m. for our virtual Caregiver Coffee sessions.