Tips on De-Stressing the Holidays for People with Dementia and Their Families

Tips on De-Stressing the Holidays for People with Dementia and Their Families

While the holidays are a busy and stressful time, it is especially so for families who have a loved one with dementia. The key to enjoying family gatherings is to plan ahead and have reasonable expectations.

Mara Botonis, author of “When Caring Takes Courage,” offers a helpful guide on how to make the holidays enjoyable for those with dementia and the people who love them. An overview of her suggestions is provided on, an online community dedicated to supporting people with dementia and their caregivers.

  1. Be inclusive. You can help your loved one celebrate the season by encouraging reminiscing, asking them to help with easy activities, and including them in conversations.
  2. Be forgiving of yourself, your loved one and your family. Focus on the positive and overlook critical or insensitive comments.
  3. Show your loved one your best self. Be patient and reassuring and try to refrain from correcting them.
  4. Redefine success. Remind yourself that dementia is a progressive disease, which means holidays will become more difficult with each passing year. Focus on important things, like creating moments with your loved one, and do without less important activities like sending cards and baking day and night.

More tips for merrier holidays

Author Jolene Brackey was a speaker at a recent Caregiver Wellness Day, sponsored by Meth-Wick. Brackey offered her own version of tips for coping during the holidays, which are also covered in her book, “Creating Moments of Joy.”

Here is a shortened version of her suggestions:

  • Call a family meeting before the holidays. Discuss traditions that must be continued and those that can be discarded or changed.
  • It can take two weeks for the person with dementia (and their caregiver) to recover from a family gathering. To reduce stress, break up holiday celebrations into mini celebrations: Christmas church service one week, family dinner the next week, open gifts the week after that.
  • Keep gatherings to a small number of family members. Have multiple family dinners to accommodate all.
  • Put the caregiver and the loved one with dementia first. Everyone else can adjust.
  • Make sure the loved one with dementia sits next to the person they are most comfortable with.
  • Be sure the loved one is never left alone in a crowd.
  • Place something in the loved one’s hands or lap like a pet or a plate of finger food to provide a positive distraction from the noise and stimulation.

Each family needs to focus on creating moments and memories and forego the complications that cause stress and take the joy out of the season. Let’s give ourselves and our family members the best possible gift by putting feelings ahead of festivities. Have a wonderful holiday season!