Article originally published in Dorado Bound Magazine

Caring for a loved one with dementia can cause a lot of anxiety, especially during the holidays when your concerns could increase. However, making it stress-free, and even making it part of your usual holiday preparations and activities, is possible. The key is to focus on what the person with dementia, in its early and even moderate stages, can and cannot do within their condition.

There are several ways to encourage their participation and promote the use of the skills they still have. One of them is to remember what your loved one enjoyed at Christmastime and which roles they had within the family in order to integrate them into the preparations. An adequate way to accomplish this integration is by breaking down the activity into simple steps. For example, when it comes to wrapping gifts, invite them to put a bow on those gifts that are already wrapped. This simple act can make them feel useful and involved in the activity.

Other tasks in which we can involve them include helping with a recipe or decorating the house, always considering their needs, interests, and skills. If they are going to participate in making a recipe or another activity, you must put the materials that are going to be used in containers, and these must be placed on a mat to create a contrast. Placing them in this manner will help direct their attention and provide them with visual support. Moreover, you should arrange the materials to be used in the sequence they are going to be used. This will serve as a guide for them to be able to follow the steps. Finally, complete the steps yourself first as a reference or to give them an example.

Beyond the preparations, the holidays can include many celebrations. It can certainly mean that there will be changes in their routine, which can lead to anxiety and/or changes in their behavior. Depending on the stage of their condition, there are strategies that can help. Let me share some of them:

  • Your loved one with dementia will feel better in smaller activities, preferably in a familiar place.
  • Help them prepare beforehand by showing them photos of the guests who will attend or by making some video calls.
  • If attendees are not aware of your loved one’s condition, let them know what to expect. This will make for a more pleasant interaction between them.
  • Check to see if there is a quiet place in the home where your loved one can be with someone for a while if they need a break from the hustle and bustle of activity.

Whether or not the person with dementia can remember these activities or what is being celebrated may not be the most important thing on these holidays. What will be truly important is that you share special moments with them, that they feel loved, and are treated as part of the family circle.

Lillian Díaz Bras, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist focused on cognitive impairments. Montessori Guide for Ageing and Dementia certified by the American Montessori Internationale (AMI).