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Dementia and the Holidays: Shifting our Perspective

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” – or so the song goes. But for those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the holidays can be especially stressful. This stress has only been compounded for the last 2 years by the COVID-19 pandemic which has distanced us from our extended families and support network. 

Among the hardest realities associated with a dementia journey is coming to grips with the fact that the holidays can no longer be the same. We put so much stock in our own holiday traditions that when those shared experiences don’t measure up, it can lead to feelings of failure, frustration, and sadness. But expecting someone with brain changes to remember and participate in traditions because “that’s what we’ve always done” is a recipe for disaster. Although traditions are intrinsically tied to our memories, acting as if things are the same will only set the stage for disappointment.

It is okay to mourn the loss of holidays past, but you can also lay the foundation for happy holidays ahead! Dementia Care Expert Teepa Snow says that we tend to focus on what’s missing, instead of what remains. It’s understandable to want the old days back. “One of the important things about holidays is to set the tone – to decide. ‘Yes, I’m going to grieve the loss, but I’m going to get over that and I’m going to try something different. I’m going to decide what can give us joy in these moments. What can we do together, and what do we need to do apart? What do I need out of this holiday, and what do they need out of this holiday?’”

Think about the things that are most important to you both and focus there. Don’t waste energy on experiences that no longer matter in the big picture. Instead, put effort into staging a few new special moments. Music, cooking, and photos are all great places to start. Music can be transformative for our loved ones, breaking through the fog of dementia with a favorite holiday tune. Cooking, especially the familiar scents of the kitchen, can also unlock treasured memories – break out a favorite family recipe! And reminiscing is always an enjoyable, quiet activity that you can share together anywhere, any time – look through old holiday photos or mementos from scrapbooks or snap a few to share on a video call or email. And don’t forget the joy of sending and receiving holiday care packages with any of these! You might be pleasantly surprised at the joy it evokes. Most of all, just enjoy your time together right now. After all, dementia demands that we live in the present. We are never promised more than this moment, so let’s make the most of it.

This is also the time of year when stress may take us as caregivers to the breaking point, so if you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here to support you! Click here to learn more about Autumn Leaves Memory Care.


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