The holiday season is upon us, and with this year’s pandemic, family celebrations will be unlike any other time in our memories.

This season of religious and secular holidays is usually a time of family gatherings and moments of joy. Yet for families living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias it can also be a time of loss and struggle, particularly during a pandemic that has increased isolation and loneliness.

If you are a family care partner, here are some tips for making more of the holidays.

Involve the person in traditional holiday tasks – write out some holiday cards to friends and family (yes, written, old fashioned Christmas or holidays cards are back this year), wrap presents (ask your family member for advice on choice of papers, ribbon and bows), and do some simple holiday decorating together (hanging ornaments on a tree or setting up a festive holiday table).

Enjoy holiday food – Discuss old holiday recipes and favorite meals; how did mom create that perfect pie crust? Baking together is an old ritual and the person with dementia can often help measure ingredients or mix ingredients in a bowl. Enjoy the fruits of your labor—who doesn’t love the taste of gingerbread?

Listen to holiday music – Music elicits memories and emotion and is therapeutic for persons living with dementia Enjoy popular holiday songs (White Christmas by Bing Crosby) or religious Christmas songs (O Little Town of Bethlehem or Away in a Manger). Watch an old movie musical or holiday special. It is amazing how old song lyrics remain intact for persons with dementia – enjoy singing some old favorites together.

Reminisce –Persons with dementia may forget about what happened this morning but have vivid memories of holidays past. Ask about past family gatherings, favorite foods, and traditions (Did you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? When did you buy this beautiful set of china or were these dishes from grandmother?). This can be a fun and revealing activity – you may learn something new about family history.

Celebrate the meaning of the New Year – Persons with dementia can still engage in meaningful conversation, sharing dreams and aspirations. Invite your family member to work with you to create a gratitude list of the things that are meaningful and important in your life (the list could include the grandchildren, friends and neighbors, or the cat!). And use the New Year to create a list of resolutions, dreams and hopes for the (hopefully much better) year ahead.

As part of its Dementia Friendly Ministry,™ Christian Horizons is committed to promoting excellence in dementia care and being an advocate for persons living with dementia and their care partners. As a faith-based organization, our associates send their best wishes and prayers to all caregivers.