Holiday Stress and Dementia Caregiving

Did you know?

Holidays can be difficult for someone with dementia to understand or even to enjoy. Read the following handout from the Alzheimer's Association to learn more about how to make adaptations at your own special get-togethers. If you would like to learn more about how to approach holidays and family get-togethers for your loved one:


While the holidays are a joyful time for many, they can be stressful for caregivers as well as people with dementia. This page discusses some of the challenges of the holidays.

The Holiday Blues: Depression is common among the older population, and holidays can increase or compound feelings of sadness. The person with dementia may feel a sense of loss during the holidays. They may miss a loved one who they lost a long time ago, may not recognize the family around them, or may feel that someone is missing. Caregivers may also feel a sense of loss since their loved one is not the same as they were all of the holidays prior. Tending to such emotions may be particularly challenging during the holidays when so much is going on, so it helps to talk to your doctor before the holidays if you or your loved one struggles with depression.

High Expectations: It is common for people with dementia to lack enthusiasm and interest in holidays. Caregivers may feel nostalgic over activities that their loved ones no longer understand or are able to participate in. Special traditions, such as decorating the house, lighting candles, or having company over for a meal may become too bothersome or dangerous to continue.

Disrupted Routines: The holiday season can disrupt routines that have barely been established. Changes to the daily schedule or the presence of new or many people around can upset people with dementia.

Travel: Having time off and seeing relatives often means that travel is involved. If you are feeling overburdened, it is okay to ask relatives to come to see you this year, or skip the reunion altogether.

Click here to review some tips for traveling with someone with dementia.

Traveling With Someone Who Has Dementia

When traveling with your loved one, be sure to plan ahead so that the trip is enjoyable for everyone and you are prepared for any potential problems. You should consider the stage of your loved one’s disease, and whether the trip you are considering is a good idea, or even possible.

Be sure the type of travel, the length of time you are gone, and the place you are visiting is appropriate for you and your loved one’s abilities, needs, and preferences. Some precautions you can take include:

  • Bringing medication
  • Packing a change of clothes in case of an accident
  • Asking another person to come along for help
  • Scheduling extra bathroom stops along the way
  • Scheduling extra breaks
  • Traveling during the day rather than the evening
  • Avoiding unfamiliar or busy places that might upset or confuse your loved one

Tips for a Happy Holiday:

While some traditions may no longer be practical or possible, new traditions can be started. Simple, repetitive tasks are safe and fun to do with your loved one. Such activities include:

  • stringing garlands of popcorn or berries
  • linking up paper chains
  • making wreaths
  • creating photo albums
  • baking cookies
  • writing and addressing greeting cards
  • listening to holiday music
  • reading holiday or religious stories

It also helps to keep expectations in line with reality. If the perfect family get-together isn’t in the cards, you can still look forward to spending time enjoying the holiday in other ways, or doing something special but simple, such as going for a walk together. Try to stick with regular schedules as much as possible and plan activities during the time of day when your loved one is most calm and interested. And remember to take care of your self and your own needs while also caring for your loved one.


Holiday Blues - Depression in the Elderly

Description: This web page discusses a common occurrence among the elderly during the holiday season - holiday blues and depression. Information is provided on causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Coping with Holidays as a Caregiver

Description: This article, written by a nurse who is also a caregiver for her mother, provides some tips regarding holiday stress and safety.

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Dementia Holiday Activities That Lower Stress and Raise the Joy

Description: This web page describes ideas for helping your loved one keep busy and engaged in the holiday season. Ideas for making decorations, having fun with food, and creating a soothing atmosphere are provided.

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Topic Sheet: Holidays

Source: Alzheimer's Association
Description: Holidays can be difficult for someone with dementia to understand or even to enjoy. This handout provides suggestions on how to approach holidays and family get-togethers with your loved one.

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