We are pleased to share some tips to make large gatherings, parties, and holiday events enjoyable for everyone.
Supporting a person living with dementia is highly individualized, and some of these tips may work for you or your loved one while others may not. That is why some of the tips below may seem contradictory.
Also, keep in mind that tips that work for an individual may change over time. Therefore, it is important to express your needs and preferences.
Remember, if you have met one person living with dementia, you have met one person living with dementia.
Scroll to the bottom of the page to watch a 10-minute video of our discussion as we identified the tips we have prepared for you.
The great thing about traditions is you can choose to keep old ones alive (or not) while creating new traditions.
Our traditions change as I change. Sometimes what worked last time will not work this time.
Preserve some traditions by making modifications. For example, use a flameless (battery-operated) menorah.
"I decorate my house and Christmas tree differently now. I have a seven-year-old grandson and we decorate the Christmas tree with lights and ornaments that look like candy. When we are finished, we turn out the lights and sit quietly together enjoying the twinkling lights and a quiet time together." - Bonnie
"I have a large, rambunctious, fun-loving family. Their fun can be overwhelming for me, so I go to another room and take a nap while they are engaging in an activity. For example, every Thanksgiving while I am napping, my family has a gingerbread house-building contest. Although I am sleeping, I am still involved because the grandkids are trying to build a house that will appeal to me when I wake up, I will select the best gingerbread house. I keep the grandkids motivated and excited with a cash prize for the winner." - Mark
"I keep a notebook throughout the year to jot down gift ideas as people identify a desire or need. If I purchase a gift, I write that down too. I should write down where I have stored the gift because I can forget where I put it." -Monica.
Consider drawing names for Christmas gifts to reduce the number of gifts needed (and save money too).
"It has become overwhelming to shop. I wrap a gift and I have no idea what is in the box until they open it. We now draw names and buy gag gifts. There is no pressure, and it is lots of fun to see all the silly things." - Bonnie
Avoid the overwhelming experience of going to stores and ordering online.
Keep your shopping list short and make multiple trips to the store to buy only a few items each time. When checking out of the store, use the express lane but not the self-checkout.
Shop early in the morning before the store gets busy.
"Our family has selected a restaurant that is nice and quiet to host our celebrations." - Lee
Avoid the stress associated with having your home ready for guests by asking someone else to host the celebration at their home, preferably in a comfortable and familiar location.
Avoid the stress of an unfamiliar environment by hosting celebrations in your own home where the environment is familiar.
Select a party location that has a quiet space or room.
Have a plan set in your mind – a place to go. You may want to share the plan with your care partner or another person to avoid questions and concern about where you went or if are you okay.
"If it is a large party and I need a break, I look for a quiet location to get away. Sometimes I go outside for a short walk. Other times, I will use a spare bathroom as my quiet space." - Steven
"Musician earplugs have worked great for me and allowed me to focus on one conversation." - Rose
Earplugs on a cord help avoid losing earplugs (same with glasses).
Shaded glasses can help reduce visual stimulation or a sleep mask that covers your eyes can help.
"I have fuzzy earmuffs that I put on as a visual cue to others that I need to reduce my auditory stimulation. I can still hear what is going on around me, but it reduces the sound a little bit. It is an easier way to communicate that I need to reduce the auditory input than asking others to tone it down." - Joanna
Select your seating carefully. Choose a small table. If a large table is the only one available, select a seat at the corner or end of the table to limit the number of persons interacting and having conversations. Also, select a seat with your back against the wall so that you can see who is coming and going. However, for some people, having your back to the door limits visual stimulation.
"Cognitive fatigue is as real as physical fatigue, and I conserve my cognitive energy for what matters most to me. For example, I typically have the energy and ability to wash my own hair and dress myself, but I am usually spent when I am finished. So, on a party day, I accept help with personal care so that I can expend my energy with people." - Joanna
When traveling out of town, allow a day to rest between traveling and the celebration.
Ask a friend or hire someone to clean your home.
Plan plenty of time to prepare to avoid the pressure of being late for a celebration.
Keep the celebration short or leave early, as needed.
"When I came out to the rest of the family about my dementia, I wrote a poem called “A Day in the Life.” I sent it to my family before Christmas. I had fixed Christmas dinner for the last 30 years. I told them I could not do it anymore." - Rose
Days prior to the celebration, keep routines as normal as possible.
Ask a friend or hire someone to decorate your home.
For Christmas, consider purchasing a pre-lit, pre-decorated tree (yes, you can buy a tree that can be used for many years that is already lit and decorated).
With the host’s approval, arrive prior to the celebration’s start time before the arrival of many people.
Prior to the celebration, share with family and friends some of the changes I have experienced and ways to best support me.
Ask someone to be my wingman (woman) for the event to provide support and assistance, as needed. It would be great if the person is not my care partner so that s/he can have a break and enjoy the celebration.
Please slow down. I always feel like everyone is in a hurry. It is nerve-wracking for me. People living with dementia do not do things quickly, but I get it done.
Keep a list of the day’s activities and times on a board and/or calendar. Please be prepared to repeat the schedule of events.
Provide me with a meal or snack before the party.
Giving gifts are still important to me. Help me buy a gift for you. My wife orders something she likes online and has it delivered to our daughter’s house who wraps it for me. My wife has a gift to open and still has an element of surprise because she has not seen it.
If a meal is being served, consider having table nametags and assigned seating. Avoid seating me by noisy children or next to a cantankerous family member.
Sometimes having too many options can be overwhelming when eating. Please don't make comments on what I am or am not eating. I am trying my best to process my choices.
If you are going through a buffet line for me, please limit the amount and number of food choices on my plate.
Making choices can be challenging. You can bring me a beverage and say, “Mom, I brought you a coffee just the way you like it.”
Bring my favorite beverage, snack, or food to the celebration.
Have guests wear name tags.
Do not ask my care partner how I'm doing right in front of me. If I am present, ask me how I'm doing. I also encourage you to ask my care partner how s/he is doing.
Please don’t give me a memory test by asking "Hey, do you remember me?" Instead say, “Hi Uncle Steven. It’s Andrew and I just drove up from North Carolina.”
I have a hard time navigating my way around and may need assistance finding my way to the bathroom or back to my spouse. If I ask for directions, please walk me to the location even if it is just around the corner.
Discreetly (privately) check in with me to see how I am doing. If I am withdrawing, I may be overwhelmed.
If you notice I am distressed, say “It is a little loud in here. I am going to go outside. Do you want to come?”
Take pictures at the event to help me remember.
Please avoid music. I cannot have a conversation and background music.
Avoid flashing lights and too many decorations.
Do not project your emotions on me. I frequently choose not to attend big family celebrations and prefer to have short visits with a couple of people over an extended period. Others assume that I am sad because I am not at the large celebration. I am very happy with my preference.
Please remember, I am trying very hard to do my best.