Q: “My dad has “moderate” dementia. The holidays have always been so important to him and our family – and I want to include him as much as possible in our festivities. How can we best prepare for this?” Richard in Jasper, GA


A. Thank you so much for you question. Holidays are typically known as “the most wonderful time of the year” – yet, for many who are caring for those with dementia, it can be increasingly complex – both logistically and emotionally.

Dementia can be quite unpredictable and can be complicated by a variety of things such as change of environment, increase of noise level, larger crowds, change in basic routines, etc. – thus, all things that are typically part of holiday celebrations.

As you best prepare for these special times, you will need to consider the person with dementia, the chosen location, and your own needs or goals as a caregiver. Consider: Who are you really doing this for?

If you answer is for you, thank you for being honest, then please assess your needs.  If your answer is for dad, we need to take a closer look.

Dad will not know which day is Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or his birthday for that matter. So pick a day that will be close to the holiday, it does not have to fall on the actual day. Then determine if he can still go to your house safely, or would celebrating at his current residence be better for him? Be aware of problems that could arise from falls, wandering, or anxiety for starters. If he cannot tolerate being away from his residence for the time allotted for the holiday activity, then do not go. (If he asks you 5 minutes after arriving, when is it time to go home? – that is an indicator of NOT taking him from his routine and environment.)

Too much is too much. Keep celebrations, food, and gifts simple and few. People with cognitive impairment live by their routines, and any changes outside of that will cause havoc for them.

Try to modify what you are doing to celebrate to the bare essence of the occasion. What is the one thing that makes the holiday special for this person? And stick to the plan. They will enjoy the special thing and hopefully realize it is a symbol of the holiday for them.

Then re-ask yourself the question above: who am I doing this for? And this time make sure the answer is for your loved one; so you know how to help them celebrate in a manner they can both tolerate and enjoy.

Happy Holidays!

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