Dementia and a New Normal Holiday Celebration

The holiday season can be overwhelming for people with dementia. Create a new normal holiday celebration so that everyone is merry and bright!

I visited a friend this week who lives in a wonderful memory support community. I arrived with a flurry- two Christmas packages in one hand, my dog on a leash in the other,  and my work bag flung over my shoulder. My friend was waiting near the front door.  As the other residents caught a glimpse of my dog, they rushed to extend their greetings. Consequently, I almost dropped the packages, my dog startled, and the commotion created an overwhelming and confusing scene, even for me.

My arrival caused my friend to become anxious. He was ready to flee and needed to separate himself from the chaos.  He wasn't sure where to go, so we just started walking down the hallway. Eventually, we came upon a place to sit, and he told me that he was sorry, and he only had about 15 minutes until his next appointment.

He sent a loud and clear message that it was all too much. I tried to create a festive holiday experience for my friend, and I over-did it. Not to mention, I know better.

A New Normal Holiday Experience

This experience tied so perfectly into the message at church today. The holidays can make you want to look back, reminisce, and wish for the days of yore. Our hearts tug to reach back and relive the past. And, we want those we love with us, just as they were in the past. Unfortunately, life's changes often make that impossible.

Reminiscing is normal and therapeutic. However, living in the past is unhealthy. The holidays should inspire hope and joy.  Acceptance can be difficult, but it is our best bet for having an enjoyable holiday experience.

In Kathy Dreyer's November article, she referenced helpful holiday tips for caregivers.  In the same way, I want to offer suggestions from the perspective of a person with dementia.

Please accept that:

  • I may not be able to handle large group events
  • I might feel blue
  • activities of the past (such as cookie-baking) may be beyond my capability
  • I may not feel comfortable being away from my familiar environment for an extended period
  • I need a new normal to celebrate the holidays

In conclusion, holiday overload can be distressing for people living with dementia. Peace and blessings to all who strive to incorporate a new normal holiday.

Julie has worked in Aging Services for over 30 years and has been a Licensed Nursing Home Administrator since 1990. She is a Certified Master Trainer with the AGE-u-cate Training Institute. Through her company Enlighten Eldercare,  Julie provides training and educational programs on elder caregiving for family and professional caregivers.  In addition, she is an instructor and the Interim Director of Gerontology at Northern Illinois University and lives in the Chicago Northwest Suburb of Mount Prospect, IL.