Dementia and the holidays

Strategies and suggestions for addressing the needs of both the patient and the caregiver

A middle-aged woman hugs her elderly mother


Holidays can be an enjoyable time to gather with family and share traditions. If you are caring for someone with dementia, holiday celebrations may benefit from some adaptations to manage your stress and that experienced by your loved one. This might include hosting a smaller gathering than usual or providing a quiet room where your loved one can visit with one person at a time. Consider planning gatherings at the best time of day for the person with dementia. Key elements include keeping routines consistent, focusing on a meaningful activity, and building in time for rest.

There are fun ways you can involve your loved one for the upcoming holiday celebrations. Safe kitchen activities could include mixing ingredients or decorating cookies. You might also read a holiday story, look at photo albums, open holiday cards, or watch a favorite holiday movie together. Familiar holiday music played at a relaxing volume may be enjoyable, too.

There are also ways for you to prepare visitors so they know what to expect from your loved one, especially if memory or behavioral changes are significant since their last encounter. You can guide visitors on ways to make the get-together enjoyable for all.

With all the hustle and bustle of the season, remember to provide relaxing activities and rest for your loved one. By devoting focused time to your loved one, you are creating moments you can cherish in the years to come.

And don't forget that self-care is crucial for caregivers during the holidays. To make the season enjoyable:

  • Prioritize. Focus on the activities and traditions that are most important to you. Keep in mind that you can't do it all.
  • Make time for yourself. Ask a family member or friend to give you a break, or use backup care resources, so that you can enjoy a holiday outing without caregiving responsibilities.

If you feel you need additional support in your role as a caregiver, the Johns Hopkins Employee Assistance Program offers short-term counseling and elder care resources and referrals to resources at no cost to you. Call 888-978-1262 or visit the website CCA@Your Service (company code: JHEAP) for additional resources and LiveCONNECT instant messaging with work-life specialists.

JHU employees also have a backup care benefit, with subsidized costs based on salary. If your loved one needs a ride to a medical appointment, companion care while you do holiday shopping, or senior care when a regular provider isn't available, consider using this assistance.

Additional information on Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia can be found by doing a search on the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health site.

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