A senior lady sitting on a couch by a Christmas tree. A senior man sits on the other side with a little girl on his knee

The holidays will be here before we know it. While how we celebrate will vary from household to household, for many, the holiday season is a time for joy, love and reconnecting with friends and family from near and far; it’s a chance to reminisce and make precious memories.

The holidays a treasured opportunity for Seniors to see friends and family, too; though if you’re caring for someone living with Dementia, you may have some concerns about how to include and involve them in your holiday festivities in a way that makes them feel both safe and comfortable.

If your loved one has been diagnosed with Dementia — recently, or if they received a diagnosis some time ago and their symptoms have been accelerating — know that you’re not alone and that there is help available to you, even around the holidays.

Specializing in Senior home care services and founded in 1990, we have been providing Dementia Care for decades. We know the value and importance of compassionate and professional care from the comfort of home. We partner our highly-trained and certified Dementia Caregivers — who understand the distinctions of Dementia care and how the symptoms evolve — with Clients based on personality and need.

Registered Nurses or Registered Practical Nurses and Dementia Care Specialists are on hand, around the clock, to supervise our Caregivers. Even during special occasions, like the holidays, a Caregiver will be by your side as you open presents, carve up a Tofurkey, and attend to any situations involving your loved one.

With all that said, if you’re still considering at-home care, in this post, we will explore some strategies to help you navigate this holiday season with a loved one living with Dementia in a way that makes them feel comfortable and at ease.

Gain a Better Understanding of Dementia

Say you’re hosting a family dinner this year, and there’s a family member attending with whom you have little in-person contact (either by geography or some other hurdle), and you’ve learned that they have recently received a Dementia diagnosis. Before they arrive for the holidays, gain a little education about the disease. Doing so will help you prepare as best as possible, and reading this post is a wonderful place to begin!

At a brief, high-level description, Dementia is a collective term for a range of cognitive disorders. There are hundreds of types of Dementia, with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. How Dementia affects a person will vary based on who they are, the type of Dementia they’re living with and the stage of the disease.

A senior lady serving dinner in a large baking dish. A woman sits in the background with a little girl on her knee.

For Dementia Friendly Holidays: Create a Plan in Advance

As we reach our Senior years, our dietary wants and likes may change. Some foods might be uncomfortable or difficult to eat, and some may become undesirable. These rules apply to people living with Dementia, too. While diet remains a pivotal part of retaining health and quality of life for those living with a type of the disease (food is fuel, after all), the holidays are a time to indulge and loosen the belt a little.

Check-in with your loved one in advance and see if there’s a specific meal they’d enjoy — avoiding overloading their plate with unfamiliar or overly rich food, which can lead to digestive issues. Involving your Senior parent, aunt, uncle or friend who’s living with Dementia in deciding what to serve will make them feel seen and valued.

Likewise, plan and arrange a reasonable start time in advance. This can help alleviate any stress or confusion for your family member. Let them know who will pick them up, who will drop them off, and when.

On the Day: Stick with a Familiar Routine

With planning in mind, know that people who are living with Dementia often find comfort in routine. When possible, try to maintain some semblance of their daily schedule. Familiarity can reduce anxiety and confusion. This means keeping mealtimes as consistent as possible, and making sure they get to bed at their usual hour.

Have back-up plans in mind too, in case your schedule runs slightly off-kilter. For example, the vegetables take too long in the oven, or someone is slightly delayed en-route to dinner. Have snacks on hand to help your loved one stave off bouts of hunger, and to save any stress from not having dinner as scheduled.

Involve Your Loved One in Dinner Preparations

While symptoms will vary between individuals and based on the type of Dementia, in the early stages, it’s entirely possible for your loved one to participate in dinner preparations safely.

You’ll have to use your judgment to ascertain their ability. If your loved one enjoyed hosting family dinners in years gone by, including and involving them in meal prep is sure to make them feel needed; and they’ll likely have some great advice from their decades of experience in the kitchen on how to perfectly baste a turkey or how to create the best nut roast!

Even leaving some light prep work to one side for them to work on will surely make your loved one feel included.

When it comes to meal planning, try to keep your menu simple. Multiple courses that involve sitting at the dining table for a long window of time can be pretty exhausting for people with Dementia, who can tire more quickly than others.

A senior lady holding a little girl in a beam of sunshine. Their faces are close together and they’re both smiling

For Dementia Friendly Holidays: Modify Your Space

If your family member has chosen to age in place, you may be hosting your holiday get together in their home, which will no doubt have been readjusted to be a safer space.

However, if they’re coming to you, take some time to create a Dementia friendly environment. Some easy-to-implement home modifications include:

  • Moving furniture in social areas so that there are clear passages to a comfy chair, to a dining table, and the washroom.
  • Removing rugs, runners, and loose cables — like the cord for lights on a Christmas tree — which could become a tripping hazard.
  • If you have a big or boisterous pet, task another guest with watching and caring for them for the day so that they don’t get underfoot.
  • And select an easy to access seat at the dining table for your loved one.

In addition to keeping your family member safe, preparing your home before they arrive will significantly reduce reorganizing hubbub and tumult when they’re there. Frantic energy could make them feel ‘in the way’ and may even cause distress.

Similarly, take time to simplify your holiday décor. For people living with Dementia, decorations around the holidays can prove overwhelming and distressing, and especially those that make noise, flash, or move. If you can, consider paring back your holiday decorations just for the day. Soft lighting and less clutter are ideal. Taking some time to simplify your decorations can significantly reduce stress around the holidays for people living with Dementia.

Tactfully Set the Dinner Table for a Loved One with Dementia

Depending on the stage of the Dementia, and the symptoms your loved one is presenting, you may need to consider how you set your dining table so that it’s a safe and comfortable dining environment that’s dignified and empowers independence.

In addition to offering verbal guidance, these tangible changes may also help.

  • Make sure the table is as minimal as possible. While elaborate décor and twinkly candles are beautiful, they can be confusing and overstimulating for people living with Dementia.
  • Colour choice is important at your tabletop, too. For some people living with Dementia, they may struggle to see the difference between black and blue, for example. When you can, pick a tablecloth and placemat that’s a different colour from the place settings. Plain white plates are perfect. This will make it much easier for your loved one to differentiate between table surface and dining plate.
  • Likewise, simple place settings with only the necessary eating implements are ideal. And depending on your loved one, you may want to invest in adaptive utensils — knives, forks and spoons with large, rubberized handles which make them easy to hold and manipulate.
  • And last, transparent glasses are great for beverages as your loved one can see what they’re drinking which may reduce stress. Further, clear glasses make it easy to establish when it’s time for a refill for other guests!

Involve Your Loved One in Festive Activities

Much as it’s essential to involve your loved one in dinner preparations (if they can do so, and want to), it’s fantastic to include them in holiday traditions and activities, too.

Holiday activities for Seniors living with Dementia might include decorating cookies, watching a holiday movie that’s a hit with the family, making paper garlands, enjoying a holiday-themed puzzle or board game, or playing a simple card game that’s easy to understand and fun to play together.

As best you can, engage in activities that match your loved one’s current capabilities and interests.

A close-up photo of someone putting sprinkles on holiday cookies

Take Time to Be with Family

It’s all too easy to hunker down in the kitchen and get caught up in making the best meal ever! Prepare as much as you can in advance and ask people to bring a dish, appetizer, or side dish. Doing so will free up valuable time on the day itself to be with the people you care about.

If your loved one is quieter than usual, be careful not to overwhelm them, but still try to engage them in soft and gentle conversation as much as possible. Remember that communicating with loved ones living with Dementia involves changing tone, vocabulary, and subject matter.

Some people living with Dementia may feel uncomfortable or even frustrated when they’re trying to contribute during a group conversation, and instead find that words and their train of thought are evading them. If you’re concerned that this is the case, try to draw them back into the conversation by listening to familiar holiday music, or looking at photos from holidays gone by.

Factor in Downtime

For many people (regardless of age, for those introverts among us), family dinners can be an overwhelming experience — factor in some quiet downtime. Plan a walk around the block, a seat on the backstep, or a chair in a quiet room where your Senior loved one can take a calm moment, allowing them to nap or rest their eyes if they wish to do so.

Talk with Guests

If you have children who are coming to celebrate the holidays, or adult guests who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of Dementia, ensure you have a quiet (age appropriate) talk before your loved one arrives.

Talking in advance about Dementia behaviours, especially to younger children, can promote understanding and empathy and save feelings of fear or confusion.

We Can Help with a Loved One with Dementia and the Holidays — and Beyond

Celebrating the holidays with a family member who’s living with Dementia can undoubtedly be challenging, but in equal measures, rewarding.

With a thoughtful approach, forward planning and sticking to a safe and familiar routine, you’ll undoubtedly have a meaningful, joyful, and heartwarming holiday season that all will surely treasure.

If you still have concerns about how best to navigate the holidays this year with a loved one who’s living with Dementia, Integracare Home Care can assist. We understand that the holidays are special, and we want to help you make them as stress-free and easy as possible. Feel free to connect if you have any questions about more permanent care for the future, too.

In addition to round-the-clock live-in home care, we have compassionate and trained Caregivers available 24/7 on a flexible schedule that works for you and your loved one, filling in the blanks on days when your family can’t be there. In addition to providing support and an extra pair of hands over the holidays, our dedicated team of Caregivers can help with meal preparation, managing medications, and light housekeeping and other Activities of Daily Living, whenever works for you, throughout the rest of the year.

This holiday season, gather with family, including the special Senior in your life who’s living with Dementia, and make memories your family will cherish and think of fondly for years to come.