Dementias bring many changes, and this can make holiday traditions and events harder to plan and carry out for families navigating these challenges.

Memories of packing up the car with presents and food, driving for miles to the grandparents’ house, with great anticipation flood our minds as holidays approach. When you were a kid, you were met at the front door, a small mob of hugs and hellos broke out on the front porch, then you were whisked into the house where you were hit with the smells of Christmas.

This trip to your grandparents’ home is different this year, you are an adult, and your grandmother has dementia. She may not remember past Christmases quite that way or remember them at all. She may be more apt to talk about her experience as a child and remember her own mom and dad at a specific point in time.

Celebrating the holidays with your loved one who has dementia can be a challenge. The loved one with dementia is not going to present themselves as you remember them or respond to you as you are used too.

Spending time with your loved ones during the holidays is important, for traditions, lasting connections, and catching up on their lives. When a loved one has dementia, you will need to include them the best you can which will often require modifying both your activities and your expectations.

Taking some time to observe your experience this year may open your eyes to the possibility that your loved is ready for a change in care, which could include increasing care in home, downsizing, or even moving.

A few things to consider when planning time spent with your loved one:

  • Communicate, ahead of time, with your loved one, possibly daily about the upcoming plans and ask for input, regardless of their current communication abilities or level. They may be able to process enough that it is not a surprise.
  • Keep the activities simple – making cookies would be fun but don’t expect it to be a start to finish project with your loved one. They could help with adding ingredients, cutting out shapes, or decorating.
  • Provide a quiet place for the loved one to get away – in an overwhelming moment taking a time out can be helpful for them. Equal activity time and rest time may allow them to enjoy more.
  • Play traditional music, low and in the background – think about a sing along. Music often brings out amazing clarity in those with dementia.
  • Keep it short and sweet. People coming in and out can easily trigger behaviors that agitate your loved one.
  • Keep decorations to a minimum.They can become overwhelming, like too many blinking lights, or a train moving under the tree. Decorations could present a safety issue if the traffic areas in the home are cluttered or too tight to pass safely through.
  • Consider the time of day. This is important especially if your loved one exhibits “sundowning” in the late afternoon and into the night. This will be evident in behaviors that include anxiety, restlessness, energy bursts, and possibly aggression.

Working with an Aging Life Care Manager® also known as a Geriatric Care Manager will help with additional recommendations that are unique to your loved one. Reach out, today, so that you are ready with ideas on how best to navigate potential challenges during the holidays.

It is also important to prepare both family members and guests who will be joining the celebration. This can be an emotional time for those who have not witnessed the changes in their loved one.

Letting them know they may not be recognized, or grandma may not have a memory of a recent event that was shared, or she may have difficulty finding words for something obvious. This isn’t a time to correct or scold for not knowing something or stating something incorrectly. Be patient, gentle, respectful, and loving.

If you having concerns about navigating the holidays with an aging loved one, please give us a call at 585-787-0009 or email us at, and we’ll be happy to assist!