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Navigating the Holidays and Memory Loss

The holidays are a time to celebrate traditions and make new memories. But with busy schedules, holiday obligations, and heightened health and safety concerns, the holidays can also lead to increased stress.

For many families impacted by dementia, it can be particularly difficult to navigate the holiday season. Loved ones with memory loss may find it challenging to interact with family and friends. And caregivers may feel overwhelmed by trying to manage everyone’s expectations for the holidays amid flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joyce Mahoney, Regional VP of Memory Care & Therapeutic Programming at Belmont Village, offers these tips for making the holidays safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

Plan ahead

Discuss the holidays with your family in advance. Make sure that everyone understands any changes your loved one is experiencing and considers what will be the most comfortable and enjoyable for them—even if that means spending time together from a safe distance, requiring all guests to wear masks, or celebrating virtually instead of in person. Create and share a wish list for useful, safe, and enjoyable gifts. Take the time to anticipate any stressful situations you may encounter and create a plan for how you will address them.

Let guests know what to expect

While you’re planning, it’s helpful to let friends and family know exactly what to expect. For example, a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia may have trouble following conversations or remembering who you are. It’s important to keep everyone informed on your loved one’s cognitive changes. Guests need to understand these changes in behavior so they don’t take them personally. After friends and family know what to expect, share some ideas for fun, meaningful ways to engage with the person living with memory loss.

Maintain routine as much as possible

Loved ones experiencing cognitive decline thrive on familiarity and benefit from strict routine. Incorporate special holiday events while maintaining as much of their routine as possible. This can help avoid needless stress and confusion—and provide your loved one with a sense of comfort and control.

Build on traditions and memories

A loved one with dementia may not be able to participate in every activity they used to, but it doesn’t mean he or she can’t be involved in the holiday celebrations. Modify your traditions or introduce new ones. Watch your favorite holiday movie, bake seasonal cookies, or sing your favorite carols together.

Involve your loved one with dementia

Get creative and adapt holiday activities to their needs and abilities. Get them involved by asking them to help you make the food, set out decorations, or wrap gifts. Even simple tasks, such as helping send greeting cards, can help them enjoy the holidays and feel more included.


If you’d like more in-depth tips on how to navigate the holidays and memory loss, watch our webinar, “Navigating the Holidays and Memory Loss” on Tuesday, December 8, 2020 at 4:30 p.m. CST. We cover how to prepare, maintain routines, build memories, and involve your loved one in your favorite holiday traditions. Watch Now»