Celebrating Christmas While Dealing With Dementia

Caregiver, patient expert
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Once dementia is part of the family, it will be part of the holidays. The person with dementia will have good days and bad days and will change as the disease progresses. One thing we can count on, though, is that a loved one with dementia will need special consideration. How does a caregiver realistically cope with the holidays?


Put away fantasies of past perfection

While many of us have experienced wonderful Christmases, our memories of perfect holidays are likely skewed. When dementia is a guest, creativity becomes important and change is to be expected. Prepare for glitches. Be realistic, flexible, and compassionate and you should get through just fine — and even experience some joy.


Cutting back is not giving in

Can you still bake 10 kinds of cookies, or will five varieties do? Can you still decorate every inch of your home while you're trying to decorate your dad’s nursing home room, as well? Take care of your elders’ wishes, but cut back on your own baking, decorating, and entertaining.


Alter traditions

If your home is closest to a loved one who lives with dementia, then it might be the best choice for hosting a holiday celebration. Bake a few traditional goodies, cook a pared-down meal, and prepare an exit plan in case your loved one has severe anxiety. Invite only helpful guests; let the rest celebrate elsewhere.


Take Christmas to them

Several of my loved ones lived in one nursing home. I’d decorate their rooms, prepare favorite treats, visit them with the kids on Christmas Eve, and see them Christmas Day. The nursing home held events, as well. This was less stressful for my loved ones than being removed from a place where they now felt safe and secure.


Splitting your time

Separate Christmas celebrations can work well. I wanted my kids to remember a few fairly normal Christmas celebrations during the 15 years of their grandparents’ severe declines. A simplified home celebration focused on the kids, while their elders experienced as much celebration as they could handle, worked best for everyone.


What about you?

Do everything you can to lower your own stress level. Share the load if you have someone who will help. You might even find that some of the craziness of the traditional holiday season has vanished, and that this "new normal" of simpler celebrations is something you'll continue to enjoy after your loved ones are gone.


Remember: It's about love

Our hectic lives can sometimes turn the last two months of each year into an endurance test. Try to use the fact that you have a loved one with dementia as a reminder of the true spirit of the season. Working to provide a festive holiday for people who need a low-key celebration can renew your own spirit and sense of wonder — if you let it.