5 tips to having a better holiday season when living with a diagnosis of dementia

15 Nov 2023

Offer a quiet space to someone to get away from the crowd

First published in Seniors Voice, titled Dementia and the holiday season
Janet Brown, Aged Care Navigator

Between family get-togethers, cooking and shopping, even people living with a healthy brain can start to feel burned out. But, for a person living with brain change, the changes to their routine can feel overwhelming.

1. Smaller, simpler, shorter
To help reduce stress, you may want to consider simplifying your gatherings. What can you let go of or minimise in a way so it still sparks joy without the added stress? Can you identify the essentials and eliminate the rest? Focus on creating moments of joy and connection.

2. Focus on strengths and abilities
Focus on the abilities they still possess rather than focussing on the loss and changes from last Christmas to now. Use photos or other images to talk about stories and old memories, or you could use an object or Google an image of a place or time they tend to associate positive memories with to help spark a conversation. You could also play a few songs the person likes, or even create a music playlist in advance.

3. Avoid corrections
If no one suffers real harm from an incorrect comment, does it really matter? Is correcting the person, on the chance of making them feel bad and hurting your relationship really that important? Remember, this may be their new reality.

4. Accept general comments
As a person is living with dementia, their communication will become vaguer as the disease progresses. For you it is important to remember that they’re doing the best they can with what they have left. If you do need more detailed information, try to avoid asking open-ended questions. Try controlled choice, for example, “Would you like tea or coffee?”

5. Give room to get away if needed
The holiday season can be stressful, even when dementia isn’t part of life. Some alterations to your usual holiday tasks and activities may benefit everyone. The hustle and bustle of holiday celebrations can get particularly overwhelming. Simplify your celebrations and look for opportunities to engage the person while allowing them to use the abilities they still have. Celebrate in the moment and cherish the time you have together rather than focussing on the loss.

If you have other family members or friends visit, consider letting your person sit at the edge of the group, instead of the centre. This way, the person may only have one person talk to them at a time for less sensory input and give them space to get away if it becomes too much or they get tired. Additionally, consider where in your home you can offer a quiet space for the person to get away to or spend a little time to quietly relax and recharge.