Many people find holidays stressful as well as rewarding. This can also be true for people living with dementia . Common features of a holiday gathering—large groups of people, new places or faces, and loud, frequent noises—can sometimes make someone with dementia feel anxious and overwhelmed.
But that doesn’t mean that people with dementia shouldn’t be included in festive plans. Holidays are just as important for people living with dementia as anyone else.
Visits are also an important way for people living with dementia to stay connected, remain socially active and maintain their sense of well-being; all of which support brain health.
So what can you do to make a holiday visit more comfortable and enjoyable for someone living with dementia? Here are 10 tips:
1. Plan your visit during a convenient time
While many holiday gatherings can take place later in the day and at night, this can be tiring for someone with dementia. Instead, consider scheduling your visit in the morning or in the middle of the day. This helps the person you’re visiting feel fresh and rested. Every person living with dementia is different, so check with the caregiver or others who visit about what’s best.
2. Plan for smaller, more personal interactions
More interactions mean more stimulation—though social activity is a good thing, the extra stimulation can become overwhelming, especially for people in the later stages of dementia. If you’re coordinating with other family members or friends, have one person visit at a time rather than having everyone go at once. That way, the visit will be easier and more enjoyable for the person living with dementia.
3. Understand a person's dementia, and how it may have progressed
A person's abilities will change at different times as their dementia progresses. Different types of dementia also have different types of symptoms. Try to understand in advance what may have changed since the last time you visited. Check with the caregiver if needed.
Again, depending on the type of dementia and its progress, different things can happen. For example, the person you’re visiting may not recognize you. You may need to introduce yourself and say why you’re there. Planning a meaningful visit and using caring communication will help you connect.
4. Bring children
5. Check about pets, and bring if suitable
Pets can provide comfort and fun for many people with living with dementia. They can also help provide a connection, especially for people who may have trouble communicating.
But it's important to check first if bringing a pet is suitable. First, be sure to check with the caregiver if you are not sure if the person you want to visit is comfortable around animals. And if you’re visiting someone in a long-term care home, check their rules first regarding animals coming into the home.
6. Bring gifts and items that have meaning to them
When deciding what to bring to the visit, look for items that have meaning to the person with dementia. For example, holidays can be a good time to look at family photo albums and videos. They can help a person with dementia remember past events, and it’s a shared experience that everyone in the room will enjoy.
And what is the holiday season without a little gift-giving? If you’re unsure about what to get, check out our post on gift ideas for people with dementia. Remember, gifts that are unique to the individual can make the experience of gift-giving more meaningful for you both.
7. Make the environment calm and peaceful
Wherever your visit takes place, do your best to provide a comfortable setting for the person living with dementia. One of the easiest ways to make the environment more welcoming is to reduce or remove sources of background noise. Turn off the TV, turn down the music and close the door. Also, try to use soft, warm lighting that won’t strain the eyes. Doing so will help make the visit more peaceful and allow the person living with dementia to focus.
8. Find activities to do together
Find an activity you can do together that speaks to the person’s talents and abilities. A fun and festive activity could be baking their favourite holiday treats or decorating the tree.
If it is safe to do so, consider going for a walk together so they can get a breath of fresh air.
If you’re visiting a long-term care home, ask the staff if there are any special holiday events going on, and ask the person living with dementia if they would like to participate.
9. Get the person involved in decision-making
Speaking of participation, keep in mind that the activities you’re planning should be ones that the person is interested in doing. Once you have a list of activities in mind, ask the person living with dementia what they think. By encouraging the person you’re visiting to make decisions about how to spend time together, you can enhance their independence and self-esteem.
Generally, it’s a good idea to limit the choices. Try asking, “Would you like to watch a movie or sit here and chat?” If that is too much choice, try “yes/no” questions such as “Would you like to watch a movie?”
10. Don’t rush
Though it’s best to keep your visit short, it’s important not to rush through the visit either. If you’re feeling stressed, the person living with dementia will feel it as well. Pacing the activities throughout the visit will help you both feel relaxed. If the person you are visiting would rather have quiet time, respect those wishes. Remember, not all communication has to be verbal for it to be meaningful.
This article was last updated on December 15, 2022. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about this article, please email [email protected].
For more tips and information on planning holiday visits for people with dementia, check out our page on Holidays and special occasions.