Helping a Loved One with Memory Loss Enjoy the Holidays

Posted By on December 15, 2021

It’s no doubt that the holiday season is a wonderful time of year, full of meaningful traditions and time with family. However, when a family member is living with dementia or other memory impairment, families may feel nervous about how to handle the season. 

However, the holidays can be calming and enjoyable for individuals with dementia and their families with the right preparation and expectations. HarborChase Senior Living offers early-stage dementia care and memory care and resources to families. We’re sharing some tips on how to create a meaningful holiday season this year.

Creating a Calming Environment

While singing snowmen and light-up holiday displays might be favorite decorations for the children in the family, they can be confusing, overstimulating, and distressing for individuals with dementia. You can still decorate, but try to keep the flashy decorations to a minimum and focus on creating a calming, festive atmosphere. 

DO: Play your family member’s favorite holiday music to set a peaceful, cheery mood. 

DON’T: Avoid having too many decorations or trees with electrical cords, candles with open flames, or decorations that may be confusing, like artificial fruit or candy. 

Engaging in Holiday-Themed Activities

Simple, repetitive activities are great for people with dementia or memory impairment, encouraging accomplishment and tactical functioning. Some activities you can try with your family member are: 

  • Popcorn stringing 
  • Paperchain making 
  • Baking and decorating cookies or a gingerbread house 
  • Wreath making 

DO: Set up a peaceful, distraction-free environment for the activity. 

DON’T: Try not to focus on the project’s outcome; just focus on the fact that they are doing it and enjoying themselves.

Preparing Friends and Family

The holidays are a time when many family members and friends come to visit, but it may have been a while since other family members have seen your loved one, or their dementia diagnosis is more recent. In these cases, let visitors know ahead of time what behaviors to expect and how to handle these situations. 

DO: Provide visitors with tips on communication, including maintaining eye contact, speaking in a gentle voice, and not interrupting or correcting them. 

DON’T: Expect your family member to recognize and remember every visitor. If they don’t, don’t try to force them to remember or correct them if they call them by the wrong name. 

Managing Your Expectations

It’s normal to have an idea of how you want the holidays to go, making sure each day goes as planned and every event is a success. However, when caring for a family member with dementia, days can be unpredictable. So it’s important to set realistic expectations, especially during the holidays, about how your days will go. 

DO: Be flexible with your plans and activities. For example, if you had been planning on going for a walk, but your family member seems tired or agitated, stay at home and relax and try going on a walk another time. 

DON’T: Get frustrated when your family member seems disinterested or frustrated in activities that you have planned for them. You can always try again later. 

Taking Care of Yourself

The holidays can be stressful for many, and caring for someone with dementia can make it even more challenging. It’s crucial to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally during this time. Taking time to yourself to refresh and recharge can ultimately make you a stronger caregiver and make the holiday season more enjoyable for everyone. 

DO: Delegate tasks to other family members and friends. For example, if you are stressed before a party, ask a friend to pick up supplies on the way over, pay your children an allowance to help clean up, and ask the neighbors if they can watch the dog for a few hours while you prepare an activity. 

DON’T: Feel guilty about enjoying the holidays. If you want to attend a party or event, see if someone else can take over your caregiving responsibilities for a few hours. It’s okay to let yourself have fun and feel joy. 

Remembering What the Holidays Are About

You might find that you are focusing more on the ins and outs of each day rather than the season as a whole. Remember, the holidays are meant to be a time for joy, togetherness, and love. 

DO: Take a few moments each day to sit with your family member and be grateful for your time together. 

DON’T: Try to put unnecessary pressure on the holidays. Your family member doesn’t care if the cookies are burnt or the lights aren’t hung; they just want to enjoy the simple moments with the people they love. 

If Your Loved One Lives in a Dementia Care Community

Many individuals with dementia live in a dedicated memory care community, like those offered at HarborChase Senior Living. If your family member is used to their new home, don’t try to change environments and bring them home for the holidays. Instead, bring the celebrations to them! Celebrating where they are most familiar can reduce unwanted stress and confusion during the holidays. 


At HarborChase Senior Living, our world-class memory care program, The Cove, is designed for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In this neighborhood, we provide a personalized experience through stimulating activities, memory-promoting cuisine, and thoughtfully designed living spaces.

We hope that these tips help you and your family have a meaningful holiday season and enjoy special celebrations and small moments together. To discover more about dementia care at HarborChase, visit our website.

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