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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Making the Holiday Season Dementia-Friendly

(Alzheimer’s Foundation of America)

NEW YORK — With the holiday season in full swing, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering tips to help the millions of Americans caring for a loved one with dementia celebrate the holidays in a dementia-friendly manner.

“People with dementia can still and should be encouraged to, enjoy and participate in the spirit of the holiday season. Because of the way dementia-related illnesses impact the brain, they may not be able to do it exactly as they did prior to the onset of dementia,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services.

Reeder continued, “By being adaptable and sensitive to the person’s needs and wishes, caregivers can help create a joyous, dementia-friendly holiday season for their loved one with dementia.”

AFA offers these do’s and don’ts for creating a dementia-friendly holiday season:

Do: Keep decorations simple. Decorating is part of the holiday season fun, however, too much stimulation may be challenging for someone with dementia.

Keep decorations festive, but simple. Instead of elaborate decorations, choose a few favorite items. Phase in decorations over a period of days so that changes to the person’s environment are less confusing.

Don’t: Overdecorate or use dangerous decorations. Too many flickering lights or noisy items could overwhelm someone living with dementia. Changes to the person’s environment might cause disorientation, which may then lead to wandering.

Be aware of safety issues: fragile decorations can shatter into sharp fragments and decorations that look like food or candy could be mistaken for edible treats, creating a choking or dental hazard.

Do: Adapt past favorite traditions or create new and viable ones. Build on old traditions when appropriate, such as enjoying favorite music or movies, or looking at pictures of past holiday celebrations. Adapt past traditions as well; if the person always sent out holiday cards or baked holiday cookies and still wants to do so, do it together with them.

Start new traditions that center on activities and events the person enjoys and can do, such as touring neighborhood holiday lights; plan to do it together. Whenever possible, ask what traditions are important to your loved one — it keeps them engaged, and helps you prioritize and plan appropriately.

Don’t: Dwell on past practices. Take a strengths-based and person-centered approach and incorporate what the person can do and what they choose to do now, rather than dwelling on what they used to do. Focus on those things that bring joy and let go of activities that seem too stressful.

It is normal to feel some sadness about changes and losses, especially during a holiday. Acknowledge these feelings and then move on to new ways to celebrate.

Do: Create a safe and calm space. Create a space where your loved one can sit comfortably during a holiday gathering, and where guests can visit in small groups or one-to-one.

To the greatest extent possible, maintain the person’s normal routine when scheduling visits or holiday gatherings; disruptions in routine can be difficult for someone living with dementia.

Don’t: Neglect safety. Be very mindful of potential tripping hazards on the floor, such as wires for decorations, as dementia can cause changes in vision, depth perception, and gait. Securely hook Christmas trees to the wall to avoid falls and use menorahs or kinaras with electric candles to reduce fire hazards.

Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia, affects more than 6.2 million Americans. The number of people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to more than double by 2060, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The AFA Helpline is available seven days a week to help provide additional information about creating dementia-friendly holidays or any other caregiving questions.

Connect with a licensed social worker by phone at 866-232-8484, by webchat at, or text message at 646-586-5283. The web chat and text message features can serve individuals in more than 90 different languages.

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