Celebrating the holidays with a parent who has dementia

You may wonder how the holidays could affect you and your parent with dementia. There are some holiday activities and traditions you may need to rethink but it is possible to keep the cheer in the holidays.

5 Tips to guide your holiday gatherings

1.Consider the stage of the dementia

Families can more easily spend time together and enjoy the holidays in the earlier stages with minimal changes to traditions or holiday activities. Yet as the dementia progresses, something to look at is how capable your parent is to celebrate.

Does Mom remember what she is celebrating? Will the change in routine aggravate her?

Will the extra people and noise increase her anxiety?

2.Set realistic expectations 

With caregiving, it may not be feasible to juggle all of your 12 traditions for the 12 days of Christmas, eight traditions for the eight nights of Hanukkah, or customs for other religious or ethnic observances. Ask yourself: is it my parent’s need to celebrate or is it the family’s need? What can I realistically handle?  Give yourself permission to adapt and choose the way you prefer to celebrate.

3.Be prepared to revise your get-togethers

Stick with familiar settings like your home and avoid places such as crowded restaurants. Instead of entertaining the whole gang, you can also limit the number of attendees at a holiday meal or spread out several smaller gatherings on different days.

And besides, who said, you need to have Christmas on Christmas day? For example, host a small intimate family gathering in early December, choose your parent’s best time of day and “have Christmas”. You will know you honoured a festive family tradition with your parent. By having an earlier Christmas, it then frees you to have time with your own family without creating undue stress on you and your parent.

4.Holiday activities

Bring out cherished family photographs, heirlooms and old ornaments. To stimulate memories, offer your parent information related to the item. Avoid turning the reminiscing into a mental performance exercise with too much quizzing. Involve your parent in some of your activities too—whether it is lighting the menorah, decorating the tree or baking cookies. If Mom used to bake your favourite holiday goodie, let her stir ingredients in a bowl, knead the dough or decorate the cookies. It will not only be fun but meaningful. Engage your parent in singing or dancing. Music appreciation is a remaining strength for many people living with dementia.

It is important to also be mindful about how tiring these activities can be for your parent.

5.Enjoy yourself.

The greatest gift at the holidays: TIME. Ask another family member, friend or healthcare professional to keep your parent company so you can relish some respite—time for some holiday shopping, a walk in the park, coffee with buddy, writing in your journal or whatever gift you want to give yourself.

 Do you have a favourite holiday tip or experience you’d like to share?

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