Helping Seniors with Dementia and Alzheimer’s During the Holidays

For many, the holiday season promises joy and warmth. But for caregivers of seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, anxiety and sadness can creep in alongside the merriment. Familiar routines shift, sensory overload looms, and cherished traditions may be forgotten by your loved one or result in confusion.

While it’s important to process the burden and challenges dementia presents, keep in mind that there may be an opportunity for a different but potentially even more meaningful holiday experience this year.

The truth is, the holidays can be an extra-special time for seniors with dementia. Think twinkling lights that aren’t too overwhelming, familiar carols playing softly, and the comfort of loved ones gathered nearby. The holidays present a potent mix of sensory and emotional triggers that have the potential to rekindle happy memories and bring smiles that could melt even the frostiest December chill.

In this blog, we will share a few tips to keep in mind when you’re spending time with a memory care senior this holiday season. We’ll also offer a few ideas to include your loved one in your holiday festivities.

Caring for seniors with memory problems during the holidays

Angie Rekeweg, Magnolia Trails Director at Georgetowne Place, has a few tips for family and friends to remember when it comes to including loved ones who are living with dementia or Alzheimer’s during the holiday season. 

Be flexible with the timing of events to avoid sundowning

If your family usually has a holiday dinner or celebrations later into the evening, consider moving it to lunchtime or breakfast.

“Many people with dementia experience sundowning, so an earlier meal is a better idea,” Rekeweg explains. “Sundowning is a symptom of dementia. This means that the person with dementia may get more agitated and more confused in the late afternoon and evening. By scheduling a holiday celebration for brunch or lunch, you will help to avoid upsetting your loved one.”

Include seniors with dementia in holiday activities

Don’t feel like you need to completely change your holiday plans if you are caring for a person with memory challenges. Instead, include them in the festivities. Inviting loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s to participate in tasks, such as baking cookies or wrapping presents, creates a sense of belonging. 

“Try to focus on the activity and spending time together, instead of the outcome of the task,” Rekeweg says.

Prepare extended family ahead of time

Open communication is crucial. Family members should discuss their loved one’s current stage of dementia/Alzheimer’s disease before the holiday gathering begins.

“Alzheimer’s and dementia are progressive conditions where people get worse over time. Updating family and friends about the latest condition of the person with dementia will help avoid surprising them during the holidays,” says Rekeweg. “When people are prepared with useful information and the right expectations, the overall outcome of the visit will be better.”

It’s also important to remember that you should never ask a person with dementia try to guess who you are by saying, “Do you remember me?” If the person is unable to remember, this can be embarrassing for them. Instead, greet them with your name and a reminder of your relationship, if necessary. An example of flipping the script this way might be to say, “Hi Grandma, it’s your granddaughter Sarah.”

Keep a routine

It’s important to understand people who are living with dementia may easily get upset by a change to their daily routine and unfamiliar faces. 

“Routine is very important for managing symptoms of dementia, changes in daily schedule, presence of unfamiliar faces or large groups of people can upset people with dementia,” Rekeweg explains. “A person may become upset if this is changed which could cause increased behaviors.”

Be sure to contact the memory care facility where your loved one has their meals in advance to learn about the types of meals they enjoy every day. Try to stick to the same kind of menu your loved one is accustomed to – this can alleviate stress for your loved one.

Five fun holiday activities for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s

Special activities are a huge part of the holiday season for many families, and continuing to include your memory care senior in these events can help them feel connected and joyful throughout the season. Below are five ways to include them in your holiday festivities.

1. Decorate your senior’s space

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and now is the time to decorate your loved one’s home or apartment! If your loved one likes to decorate and work on craft projects, this is the perfect activity for them. Try to remember to avoid decorations that are loud or have flashing lights, as this may cause confusion or sensory overload.

2. Get cooking!

Whether it’s cooking your famous green bean casserole or baking sugar cookies, involving your senior loved one in preparing food can give them the satisfaction of helping others. 

Try to stick with simple tasks that do not require your senior to be near hot surfaces. Invite them to observe you cooking and chat while you work if they do not want to participate. It is important to keep a close eye on your loved one while in the kitchen to ensure their safety in what can potentially be a dangerous area of the house for someone with cognitive challenges. 

Other important safety measures can include securing knives or toxic chemicals in cabinets outfitted with safety locks, making sure your loved one isn’t too close to hot water, and removing obstacles to reduce the risk of falling. 

3. Listen to music or watch a movie

An activity that many individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s enjoy is listening to music. Play your loved ones favorite carols or gather around the fireplace and watch a Christmas movie. Better yet, watch a musical and get the best of both worlds!

4. Play card games

Card games are a good pastime for seniors and an excellent way to monitor the cognitive skills of seniors with memory challenges. Playing a game may also bring back fun memories of past game nights or their competitive spirit. 

5. Reminisce about past holidays

Consider trying reminiscence therapy activities with your loved one. One easy activity is looking through old photos. Find a photo album with pictures of friends and family your loved one might recognize. You may be surprised to see a calm over their face as they find a memory hidden in the back of their mind brought back to life thanks to the photos. 

Schedule a tour at a community near you

If you’re struggling to care for a loved one with dementia during the holiday season, we see you and know how hard you are likely working to make this a special time of year for your loved one.

If you need caregiving support, the holiday season is a great time to move to a senior living facility. In these communities, seniors enjoy seasonal meals, festive activities and have the opportunity to make new friends in a homelike environment.

To learn more about Sonida Senior Living communities and our memory care services, contact us to schedule a tour or request information. You can also search for a community near you.

adult woman smiles while helping her senior mother
adult woman smiles while helping her senior mother

Holiday Gift Guide for Seniors

Trying to figure out what to gift the older adult in your life this holiday season? We have you covered!

Senior gift guide

Find a community

If you’re a senior or caregiver looking for independent living, assisted living or memory care services for you or your loved one, contact us to schedule a tour or request information about a community near you.