Here is a guide for caregivers for dealing with dementia and getting through the holidays. As a dementia caregiver myself, I found this time of the year to be very tough. I created this guide so it’s easier for you.

Title a caregiver guide for dementia and the holidays on top of photo with christmas tree boughs and wrapped gifts

Why are holidays difficult for a person with Alzheimers

First, let’s discuss why the holiday season is tough.

  1. The season throws off their normal routine. Routine builds security and comfort. A change in that brings on anxiety.

  2. Your loved one may not understand what is going on and what all the decorations are for.

  3. There’s a tree in the room. Imagine what your loved one is thinking – How did it get there? Why is it there? What does it mean?

  4. They may not understand what all the decorations are for.

  5. They might experience anxiety due to the chaos of a holiday gathering; the clutter of presents, people and decorations; the noise,  and by any flickering lights.

  6.  They may not like loud crowds/groups of people, children running around.

Spiral bound notebook with a Christmas list showing names and the gift for that person
Click on the picture to get a printable Christmas Gift List

How to deal with Dementia during the Holidays

Now let’s talk about how YOU, as the caregiver, can make the holiday season less stressful. Here are some tips for you.

  1. Don’t plan or take on too much. You’re only 1 person. You can only do so much, especially if you also have family to take care of. 

  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, relatives or other family members.

  3. Take care of yourself. If you are not healthy, then you can’t take care of your loved one and they depend upon you.

  4. If you are going to have a holiday gathering, plan for one that’s during a good time for your loved one – probably not an evening time when they’re more susceptible to “sundowning.”

  5. If you plan to have people over to your house, make sure there is a quiet room that your loved one can go to when/if needed.

  6. If you have family coming in from out of town, talk to them ahead of time to let them know how your loved one is and best ways to interact, etc.

  7. If you have family traditions, involve your loved one but don’t overtax them.

  8. Decorate slowly over time rather than all on one day.

Tabletop full of Christmas ornaments

dementia holiday tips

Let’s talk now about how to make the holidays better for your dementia loved one. 

  1. Put decorations up over time so your loved one gets “used” to them and their environment hasn’t suddenly changed. If you put out all the decorations at one time, it might lead the person to think they aren’t living in the right place which then leads to the possibility of wandering away from home. 

  2. Have your loved one help with the decorating.

  3. Try not to rearrange the room (ie. put furniture in different places)  in order to put up a Christmas tree. This may lead to confusion and frustration.

  4. Keep to the same daily routine for your loved one as much as possible.

  5. If you change daily dishes over to Christmas plates, take care that they are not ones with patterns as that may disguise food or be distracting to your loved one. It’s best to keep it to a solid color plate.

  6. Watch where you put extension cords. Don’t put them out in areas where they would be walking over them.

  7. Avoid scattered holiday rugs – that’s an accident waiting to happen.

  8. And something that you wouldn’t normally think of but avoid putting out holiday shaped soap containers – ie. – no Christmas tree shaped soap dispensers. 

What are dementia friendly christmas decorations

Before we talk about decorations that are friendly, let’s first talk about ones that are NOT friendly such as –

  1. Twinkling/blinking lights

  2. Real candle flames

  3. Breakable glass ornaments

  4. Cookie ornaments-ie Gingerbread or the dried dough ones

  5. Life-sized characters with sound and motion

  6. Nothing with voice activated movement or sound

  7. Things that look like real food, candy or fruit. No red berries.

  8. Avoid food scented items such as cinnamon scented pine cones.

  9. Clear up the clutter – keep it simple

So, what kind of decorations would be good? Hare are some ideas.

  1. Wooden reindeer, wooden ornaments

  2. Fabric animals and other fabric ornaments

  3. Be aware that decorations might “walk off” somewhere. So don’t put out ones that you would really miss if they were lost/misplaced.

  4. Paper chains on tree

  5. Non breakable ornaments

Dementia friendly holiday activities

Here are some ways to get people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia involved during the holiday season.

  1. Make cards

  2. Work together addressing and sending cards. I would address the envelope and have my mom sign the card and add notes.

  3. Make wreaths

  4. Holiday baking

  5. Decorating cookies

  6. Take them out to look at holiday light displays

  7. Listen to music

  8. Go Christmas caroling or sing some carols

  9. Attend a holiday concert – However, be aware of length – my mom would get anxious and fret about who was “home with the baby” – so you may have to leave early.

  10. Watch holiday movies

  11. Board games that would be appropriate for their skills

  12. Create paper chains

  13. String Christmas colored beads, however, watch to make sure these are not swallowed.

  14. String garlands of popcorn – I would be cautious about this one. While it sounds fun and your loved one will probably enjoy eating the popcorn, I would be more concerned with what might happen down the road. Once the strand is on the tree, will your loved one attempt to eat it?

Here are 2 holiday activities available in my Etsy shop. The photo on the left is for a journal to record the holiday memories of your loved one. The photo on the right is a collection of line art trees that they can “decorate.”

Continuing the list of dementia friendly holiday activities –

  15. Wrap presents. Speaking from personal experience, wrapping was frustrating for my mom. By the time we wrapped several presents, she was so confused with who got what present and what was in it, etc.

  16.  Make hot chocolate

  17.  Make crepe paper flowers for the tree.

  18.  Work on a holiday jigsaw puzzle with larger pieces like this one below.

  19. Color on pages from these adult coloring books.

  20.  Christmas Activity Kits like these. The wooden light bulbs below are reminiscent of those old light bulb strands. Are you old enough to remember those? Paint them and wrap some cord or twine around the bulbs or hot glue them to the cord and you’ve got a light strand for the tree!

And if you still need some more activities to try, check out this blog post.

74+ Christmas Activities For Loved Ones with Dementia

You can make the holidays a pleasant time for both the caregiver and the person with dementia. It just takes planning and some careful consideration!