Holidays and special occasions


For some of us, holidays or other special life events can be stressful, particularly if you are a caregiver or a person living with dementia. Unfamiliar places, large groups of people, noise and a hectic pace can create a lot of anxiety.

Senior couple celebrating the holidays together.

It is still possible to be a part of significant moments and merrymaking with friends and family, to celebrate people and relationships. As you line up events - like holiday parties, weddings, birthdays, or even funerals - remember to plan early, set realistic expectations and simplify your plans.

Here are tips to make holidays and events less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone:

  • Do only the occasions and traditions that are most important to you and your family.
  • Keep celebrations short. At longer gatherings, consider bringing the person with dementia for the most meaningful part of the event.
  • Plan smaller get-togethers. This will minimize stress and feelings of being overwhelmed, especially if the person you’re caring for is in the later stages of dementia.
  • Find a quiet area where the person can retreat and have someone keep them company.
  • Choose familiar places for events to help avoid confusion.
  • Plan festivities on a day and time that suits the person with dementia.
  • Check for potentially dangerous items such as decorations that look like candy or fruit.
  • Involve the person with dementia in preparations, especially with tasks they can still do or enjoy, like stirring batter, making cards or wrapping gifts.
  • Prepare the person’s favourite meal, and keep in mind that too much rich food can cause them to become agitated.
  • Buy a thoughtful gift for the person. You can never predict how they’ll react so don’t be surprised if they’re less than enthusiastic.
  • Do things that have meaning such as looking at old family photographs or singing favourite songs.

It’s also a good idea to make a list of doctors or walk-in clinics and pharmacies that are open during holidays in case of an emergency. And, if the person is on medication, make sure they have enough to get them through the break.

Special occasions can bring feelings of joy or sadness. If a celebration reminds the person with dementia of events from the past, he or she may speak of people and things from that era. Rather than trying to reorient the person to the present, talk about the past event and memories of similar occasions. Changing abilities have not altered the person with dementia’s importance in the family or the need to be included at special events.

Make time for yourself

Don’t overdo it. It may be tempting to go all out or try to keep traditions from previous years going, but it’s really important to pace yourself.

  • Ask a friend or neighbour to help with shopping or cooking – and don’t refuse help if it’s offered!
  • Assign specific tasks to your children and relatives.
  • Adjust your priorities. How urgent is this?
  • Pat yourself on the back. Recognize the important work you do and how much you mean to the person you’re caring for.

And remember, you’re not alone. Call your local Alzheimer Society if you need to talk to someone who understands the stress you’re feeling.

Ways to help

Friends, neighbours and extended family are important sources of support for the family. Perhaps you want to help but don't know where to begin. This page will give you some ideas of how you can offer practical help and show that you care.

Learn more
End dementia stigma: Be patient and offer help.

Making meaningful visits

Whether you are visiting someone with dementia every day or just once in a while, making the most of your time together will mean a more meaningful visit for both of you!

Learn more
Family visiting grandpa.