Creating a Happy Holiday Season for Your Loved One Living with Dementia

senior woman with dementia laughing with her daughter in home at Christmas


Holidays typically mean getting together with family and friends and spending time with those we love. If you’re caring for someone living with dementia this holiday season, you may be thinking about reducing your participation in social activities, either because you feel overwhelmed or you aren’t sure how your loved one would deal with seeing others.  

Living with dementia may reduce a person’s desire to spend time with others, but socializing remains essential to improving their quality of life. Numerous studies have shown that socialization is a key component in brain health and in helping people living with dementia lead more fulfilling and satisfying lives. We’ve talked about the importance of socialization before.

Because the need to remain connected to family and friends is so critical, it’s important to help your loved maintain a social life. Physical limitations may prevent your loved one from going out as much as they used to. In that case, invite people over, so your loved one has opportunities to be around people they know and love.

There are many things you can do to help ensure a visit from a family member or friend is as successful as possible. Here are some tips to help make the visit enjoyable both for your loved one and their visitor.

Prepare your guests about what to expect

Talk to friends and family before they arrive so they know what circumstances to be prepared for when meeting with your loved one. Help them realize what the person can still understand and what behaviors they may exhibit during the visit. As people with dementia may remember faces, but not names, have guests wear nametags.

Prepare your loved one for the visit

It’s equally important to get your loved one prepared. Before someone comes to visit, show them pictures of who’s coming, discuss how your loved one knows them, and reminisce about good memories associated with that person.

Get your loved one involved

If you plan on offering food, have your loved one help with the cooking or preparation. If they enjoy vacuuming or other chores, encourage them to help you get ready to receive your visitors.

Limit the number of visitors

People with dementia can become overwhelmed with a large group of people. Limit the number of people you invite. Also, plan the visit during a time of the day when your loved one is at their best. Many people with dementia become agitated during certain times of the day.

Plan an activity

People living with dementia often have trouble participating in conversation, so plan an activity such as looking at old photo albums, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, or baking a pie. 

Manage your expectations

Dementia can be highly unpredictable. Be alert to your loved one’s mood and emotions and be prepared to alter your plans if your loved one becomes agitated or tired. Let your visitors know ahead of time that you may have to cut the visit short.

Gentle reminders

Finally, provide your guests with tips to make the visit as enjoyable as possible.

  • Don’t correct the person if they misremember something or if they say something that’s not true.
  • Gain eye contact with the person before approaching them. Have guests introduce themselves and explain how they know the person (e.g., “Hi, Helen, I’m George, your next-door neighbor.”)
  • Be calm and don’t talk to the person as if they were a child.
  • Finally, don’t take it personally if the person doesn’t remember who you are or lashes out in some way.