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Holiday Considerations When You Have a Loved One With Dementia



The holiday season is often a busy time filled with festive events, parties, decorating, gift giving, and more. It can also be a hectic and stressful time when you have a family member with cognitive impairment and dementia. Below are some simple tips to make things easier for those staying close to home and also traveling.

A stable environment and routine is often important for those with cognitive impairment and dementia. As a result it may not be best or even possible to travel to family or friends as was done in the past. We encourage families to embrace the positives and opportunities in this regard by being open to change and forming some new family traditions accordingly. As with proper planning you can still experience all the joy of the season close to home and in alignment with the individuals daily routine and schedule.

  • Embrace new opportunities close to home. For example, scenic drives to take in the holiday decor or lighting, simple day trips, holiday parades or craft fairs, a relaxed holiday tea, or even viewing some of the past holiday movies that may tap into preserved memories and provide for reminiscence and discussion can be fun and festive!

  • Some of the museums and historic properties offer special programs onsite and even from home virtually which can also be tried. When accessing onsite events and programs let the vendor know in advance any special considerations or limitations and try to reserve programs on less busy days and times if possible. It may be helpful to request seating in a less busy area of a restaurant, and to even request a less is more approach to table settings. Having the menu or options in advance, so that simple choices can be presented or decisions can be made prior to going to a restaurant or event may also be helpful to limit frustration and confusion.

  • If you cannot go out many things can be done at home to celebrate by tapping into preserved memories and emotions. For example, try to provide foods, decor items, and even scents that brought the individual pleasure in the past. Preparing some simple holiday foods or doing holiday crafts for gift giving to engage them and provide purpose can also be fun. Looking through scrapbooks of past holidays, holiday books and stories, and holiday music can often bring joy to those with cognitive impairment.

  • Remember to include cultural components and religious preferences in planning. Check into local programs and specific groups or events being held through online or planned in person attendance.

  • Remember to educate family members and friends on the loved ones needs and preferences as these may have changed based on disease progression. Provide them with the best times for visiting and outings based on the individuals routine and schedule. Keeping these aspects consistent for the individual is best. Avoid outings later in the day and multiple outings or onsite events in one day as this can lead to cognitive taxing, anxiety, and challenges Ask family members to share in new traditions through onsite visits or video calls if needed. Keep all aspects on the individual’s terms.

  • Helping the individual to find purpose on their terms is also important by involving them in aspects of the holiday through decorating, meal prep, etc - again all on their terms.

  • A less is more approach to decorating may need to be taken to avoid overstimulation and provide for safety. Decorating and making changes to their environment gradually is best so that you can gauge their response. Remember that their environment, routine, and structure provides them with security, safety, and even mild changes can spark anxiety and even behavioral challenges for some. It is usually helpful to avoid blinking or pulsing lights, items that move, and always be mindful of cords and wrapping paper post gift giving as these can pose as tripping hazards. Clutter also can lead to anxiety and should be avoided.


If you are traveling during the holidays ample planning will be essential. Change is often hard for those with cognitive impairment and dementia, so many variables need to be considered prior to committing to travel - especially over the holidays. Individuals with cognitive impairment often have some challenges when their environment is changed, which can spark a temporary decrease or change in their cognition, and at times, even some behavioral challenges while away.

Planning a trip is not something that should be taken in a trivial manner for those with dementia or cognitive impairment. Consider whether they will truly benefit from the trip, how they do with change even within the home, etc. Are they bothered by a subtle change to the routine, are they resistant to care at times, do they sundown, or have they had any routine behavioral challenges? Again, some of these aspects may worsen or pose a health risk if they are taken away from the comforts of home. Please consider using the information below in organizing your thoughts before attempting to book travel with a loved one with dementia:


  • Do they do well with change and day trips? Any challenges? Are these easily navigated or realistic to navigate past?

  • Do they have complex or chronic care conditions that also need to be considered, and could make travel detrimental or challenging?

  • Did they enjoy going on holidays and traveling previously? Was travel a part of their usual routine in the past and would it be part of their preserved longer term memory?

  • Will you be traveling to a familiar location that may be part of preserved longer term memories and provide comfort?

  • Do they adjust well to new surroundings? Or do they become frustrated, confused, or anxious with the changes to their routine, environment, location, food, etc?

  • Traveling can be unpredictable - how would this impact them and how would you manage this? How do you think they would respond to a flight delay, changes in temperature, food options, or even time zone changes?

  • How will you and they handle security checks if air travel being used? How would you and they manage the need to remove personal items, shoes, clothing?

  • If they have mobility issues, incontinence, frequent medications or vital sign and blood sugar management how will this be navigated during travel and at your travel destination?

  • Remember to dress in layers and in a carry on pack medications (ensure to pack extra in case of delays), a change of clothing, incontinence products, along with a drink and favorite snack. Ship any items and gifts in advance to your destination if possible to limit the amount of baggage and make things easier to navigate during travel! Have a light weight wheelchair and pressure reducing chair pad if wheelchair use is needed. The pad can also be helpful for use on the flight for comfort. Bring a light weight bag with some activities and comfort items.

  • If staying in a hotel, or with family, ensure that they understand any items that will be needed to make for a successful stay.

  • Having trip insurance is also important for medical and trip cancellations if needed.

If traveling for the holiday is essential or will bring joy to the individual it can be done successfully with some planning and guidance. Reach out to a care manager to discuss and help with coordination of care and other aspects.


With ample planning the holiday season can be joyful for all! If you need guidance on any area, please feel free to reach out to one of our Care Management staff as we are here and happy to help! Happy Holidays!




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