6 Tips for Creating Joyful Holidays with Dementia

Written by Dr. Pat Zook

December 21, 2023

If this holiday marks your family’s first gathering, with the newfound awareness that either grandpa or grandma is grappling with dementia, we offer these helpful recommendations to enhance the enjoyment for everyone. Or, if concerns about a family member’s dementia symptoms have lingered for years, leaving uncertainty about navigating holidays, these suggestions may help you as well.


1. Enlist Help from Others

Ask for assistance for specific duties rather than a general, “Hey, can you help me today?” Ask for help with tasks like eating, bathroom breaks, social engagement, comfort level, or hands-on assistance. Encourage reluctant helpers by offering some specific pointers like, “Grandpa prefers to eat with a spoon and without direct help”, or “Grandma likes it when you talk about all the great holiday parties she hosted over the years”. The goal is that they are not stuck by themselves, off in a corner without engagement. Help reluctant partygoers start conversations with them by mentioning a familiar subject matter both parties are interested in. Suggest not asking, “Grandpa, do you remember when I caught that big bass off your dock?” but rather, “Grandpa, I still have that picture of you and me when I caught that big bass off your dock, that sure was fun,” to get a reminiscence conversation going. Caregivers that are the same gender as the loved one with dementia should handle the bathroom breaks, so be sure to arrange for this for their comfort.


2. Limit Celebrations to Two Hours

Grandma or grandpa may not be able to party for more than an hour or two, so watch to see when it’s time for a nap or time to head home before they either shut down or become anxious.


3. Encourage One-on-One Conversations

Try to make it so that they mostly speak to one person or one couple at a time so that they can savor each word and story without being overwhelmed. Sometimes they may prefer to just observe and enjoy the energy of seeing everyone without a lot of personal engagement – this is OK too.


4. Avoid Sick Family Members

Depending on the size of the party, it might be difficult to minimize contact with family members who should have stayed home with their cough, cold, or fever, but it’s crucial to watch for this potential problem. To address this issue, consider implementing safety measures such as encouraging unwell family members to join the celebration virtually, providing hand sanitizer, and creating designated areas for those feeling under the weather to minimize exposure to others. Prioritizing the health and well-being of all attendees will contribute to a safer and more enjoyable gathering for everyone.


5. Avoid Prohibited Foods

Be observant at mealtime or with snacks to be sure that they avoid the foods that they aren’t supposed to eat or those they may not be able to swallow easily. Help them to eat without the embarrassment of spills or other mishaps.


6. Warm Up the Car

Don’t forget to pre-warm the car for the ride there and home. Be extra careful about fall prevention when getting them into the car after a tiring but thoroughly enjoyable holiday gathering – enjoyable thanks to you.


We hope these tips will help make your holiday season more enjoyable for your loved one, you, and the rest of the family. Thank you for caregiving!