Celebrating the Holidays When a Loved One Has Dementia

With the holiday season in full swing, it may seem easier to skip some holidays when a loved one has dementia, especially when they are in the late stage. With dementia there are good days, bad days, and of course, every single day involves memory loss of great magnitude.

It can be emotionally difficult to celebrate special holidays, such as Christmas, when the person you have known all these years seems so far away. However, maintaining traditions and celebrations is actually a very crucial part of life with dementia. It is not just important for the person who has dementia, but it is equally as important for caregivers and family members to take time to celebrate, as well.

Sometimes we must change the way we celebrate holidays when a loved one has dementia. During the later stages of dementia, going to places like church or someone else’s home may prove difficult and may even cause increased confusion and agitation. Maybe your family has always had a tradition to go to your Aunt Jane’s house for New Year’s Day dinner. May you have gone to your church’s Christmas Eve mass every year. You can still indulge in these traditions, but if your loved one struggles with outings, it might be easier to bring those old traditions to them in their comfort zone instead. You could have a family member bring a plate from Aunt Jane’s gathering to your loved one. You could watch a Christmas Eve mass on tv, find one online to watch, or even listen to one on the radio.

If it is difficult for your loved one to read or communicate, you can still write him or her a heartfelt Christmas card and read it aloud to them. You can listen to familiar holiday music together. You can even sing and dance if your loved one is able. While the rest of the brain is shrinking and dying during the dementia process, music is stored in a part of the brain that remains. Listening to familiar music often sparks powerful, positive memories and feelings for those with dementia. You can bake your family’s traditional Christmas cookie in the presence of your loved one. The sounds of baking in the kitchen and the smell of warm cookies can bring back great memories, stimulate, and engage your loved one in a most positive way.

You can simply look through old photo albums together. It is important to regularly reminisce with someone with dementia as it helps to increase their sense of self, but it also reminds them of who you are and the special bond you share.

Whatever you choose to do with your loved one this holiday season, know they may not remember the words you say, but they will remember the way you make them feel. To someone living with dementia, feeling loved, feeling special, and getting moments of stress-free quality time are far more valuable than anything else.