How To Make Holiday Gatherings Dementia-Inclusive
November 23, 2022

The holidays have officially arrived! For many, the next couple of months will be expectantly full of cozy family get-togethers, long-time Christmas traditions, and grand Thanksgiving feasts featuring everyone’s favorite dishes. However, with so many activities to plan for, loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia and their caregivers may be experiencing an added layer of stress over the next few weeks. The holidays can pose particular challenges, especially for caregivers who want to ensure that their loved ones get to enjoy the merriment of it all. Luckily, with some planning and preparation, holiday gatherings can undoubtedly be made a dementia-inclusive experience, marking a joyous and memorable season for everyone!

Adapting To Change & Creating A Dementia-Inclusive Space

Overstimulation is one of the most common challenges caregivers face when introducing the holidays into their loved ones’ routines. Between an abundance of flashy decorations, lots of visitor stops, and frequent outings, your loved one with dementia may feel disoriented by the sudden surge of activity around them. In speaking to Today’s Caregiver, Jennifer Reeder, LMSW and Director of Educational and Social Services for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), states:

The best way to support [seniors] with dementia during the holiday season is to create an inclusive environment to enjoy holidays and celebrations, while also understanding and adapting to changes and being aware of the many emotions the holidays can bring.

3 Ways You Can Make Your Holiday Gatherings Dementia-Inclusive

The holidays might be stressful at times, but there are still plenty of opportunities to experience and share the joy of the season with your loved one with dementia. Focusing on the present and narrowing down your list of expectations for the holiday season is the first step in adapting your holiday into a dementia-inclusive experience.

According to Being Patient, occupational therapist and dementia care educator, Teepa Snow, recommends thinking smaller and making a list of the holiday experiences that mean the most to you and your loved one with dementia. Depending on what traditions you and your loved one may be looking forward to, here are a few of our suggestions to help ensure that all of your holiday gatherings remain festive and dementia-inclusive:

Help Your Loved One Get Busy With Holiday Tasks

The holidays are so so fun, but also so so busy! From prepping your Thanksgiving feast to wrapping presents before Christmas day, there is much to be done. However, not all of these things need to be done by yourself. Some activities might even bring a lot of joy to your loved one with dementia who is eagerly waiting to get into the holiday spirit! So, invite your loved one to join you in the preparation process and spend quality time together while you arrange everything for the holidays. 

For example, if cooking is something you both enjoy, then baking some treats might be the perfect way to include your loved one in prepping for upcoming holiday parties.

Seniors Cooking For A Dementia-Inclusive Holiday Gathering

Have some fun working side by side as you dish out some of your favorite foods, laughing and tasting everything along the way. Better yet, many of your favorite recipes can be adapted into a dementia-friendly experience, including these No-Bake Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Balls or 3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies.

Prepare Your Loved One And Your Holiday Visitors

Preparing Seniors For A Dementia-Inclusive Holiday Gathering

If you are looking forward to hosting a festive gathering at your house, take the time to talk to your loved one with dementia about what to expect. Excitedly express to them that you’re planning a dinner and ask them what dishes they would like to have or help prepare. You can also talk to them about who you are thinking of inviting over for a visit or even ask your loved one to help you mail out some festive holiday-themed invitations to all of your expectant party-goers.

As the day of the gathering inches closer, ask your loved one if they want to mark the date of the occasion on a calendar so you can count down the remaining days until you both get to enjoy a fun time with family and friends.

If you find that your loved one might be unsure of who is coming over for a visit, set aside special time for the two of you to bond over looking through family photo albums while recounting some of your favorite times with each visitor. You can also make this an opportunity to prepare your guests for what to expect before they arrive for the party. For example, schedule some time for a video call so your loved one can reconnect and feel familiar with your guests, which also gives your guests the opportunity to understand some of the changes your loved one has experienced and how to best communicate comfortably with them.

Set Aside Time For Your Loved One To Rest

While we understand your goal is to create a dementia-inclusive holiday gathering, we also want to assure you that it is okay to take some time to step away from certain festivities if needed. Loved ones with dementia thrive when they have a sense of normalcy within their routine, so new changes brought about by holiday activities might mean that your loved one will need a little more time set aside for some peace and quiet.

If your Thanksgiving or Christmas feast is something you have both prioritized, then set aside time beforehand for your loved one to have a nap or enjoy a quieter activity, such as listening to some of their favorite holiday music.

Dementia Inclusive Holiday Gatherings

As you go about enjoying your holiday gatherings, also be sure to keep an eye on your loved one for any signs of exhaustion or agitation, and know that it is absolutely okay if your loved one needs to take an early leave. Lisa Mayfield, a certified care manager at Aging Wisdom, states, “Often families think they should spend the entire holiday together, but that can be really difficult for somebody with cognitive impairment. It’s about quality — not quantity – when it comes to the length of your visit.”

Did You Know?

Oakwood Creative Care is bringing back the JOY in aging! We believe a diagnosis should not have to define your life. Instead, we have devoted our mission to reigniting hope for caregivers and older adults with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other age-related challenges. Click the button below to learn more about how we do this through our research-based, cutting-edge, creative care model found at each of our Day Clubs.

How to make holiday gatherings dementia-inclusive


We're a nonprofit organization based in Mesa, Arizona with three senior day club locations (and a fourth on the way) which serve older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's, and various other physical or cognitive challenges. Life does not end with a diagnosis. Our members continue to learn new skills, enjoy new discoveries, make friends, laugh, and live a joy-filled life. Our team of dementia experts lead support groups, events, classes, and private sessions with caregivers and families, guiding them on the best methods to care for their loved ones while also caring for themselves.

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