4 Tips for Creating a Dementia-Friendly Holiday Season
(December 9, 2022)- With the holiday season underway, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is providing four tips to help families affected by dementia enjoy the spirit of the season in a dementia-friendly way.
“The holiday season can be both joyful and stressful for all of us, especially individuals living with a dementia-related illness,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “Being proactive, adaptable, and inclusive of the person’s wishes and abilities are the best ways to help them have a happy and joyful holiday season.”
Families, partners and friends caring for someone with dementia should consider the following steps:
Avoid over-decorating. Decorating is part of the holiday season fun, however, too much stimulation may be challenging for someone with dementia. Keep decorations festive, but simple—too many flickering lights or noisy items could be overwhelming. Instead of elaborate decorations, try choosing a few favorite items. Phase in decorations over a period of days instead of all at once, so that changes to the person’s environment are less confusing.
Create a safe and calm space. Don’t use fragile decorations (which can shatter and create sharp fragments) or ones that could be mistaken for edible treats. Be mindful of potential tripping hazards on the floor, such as wires for decorations. Securely hook Christmas trees to the wall to avoid falls and use menorahs or kinaras with electric candles to reduce fire hazards. As well as a physically safe environment, create a space where your loved one can sit in comfort and where guests can visit in small groups or one-to-one. As much as possible, maintain the person’s normal routine when scheduling visits.
Adapt past favorite traditions or create new ones. Build on old traditions when appropriate, such as enjoying favorite music or movies, or looking at pictures of past holiday celebrations. Start new ones that center on activities and events the person enjoys and can do, such as touring neighborhood holiday lights, and do it together. Take a strengths-based and person-centered approach and incorporate what the person can do and what they choose to do now, rather than dwelling on what they used to do. Focus on those things that bring joy and let go of activities that seem too stressful.
Involve the person in the planning and preparations. Whenever possible, involve the person by asking what traditions are important to them—it keeps them active and involved and helps you prioritize and plan appropriately. For example, if they always sent out holiday cards or baked holiday cookies and still want to do so, do it together with them. If they can no longer shop for gifts for their loved ones, invite them to help with wrapping the gifts so that they feel they are contributing.
The AFA Helpline is available seven days a week to help provide additional information about creating dementia-friendly holidays or any other caregiving questions. Connect with a licensed social worker by phone (866-232-8484), webchat (www.alzfdn.org) or text message (646-586-5283). The web chat and text message features can serve individuals in more than 90 different languages.