When Dementia Is On The Holiday Guest List

link to article. When dementia is on the holiday guest list.

This article was reprinted with permission from Del Oro Caregiver Resource Center. It was originally published in their Fall/Winter 2014 issue of Pathways.”  

By Stefani Wilson,
Marriage and Family Therapist
In Sacramento
November 28, 2018

When Dementia Is On The Holiday Guest List

The holiday season calls for advance planning in order to honor family traditions and remembering when times were different…before dementia joined the family tree.  Most caregivers, who are actively involved in the care of a family member with dementia, understand this world of varying moods and needs, the unraveling of reciprocity in the relationship, as well as the understanding that each new day may reveal another twist in the journey.  Of course, with dementia, one does not peer too far into the future. yet when the holidays are just around the corner- we must consider this in our holiday planning.

You Don’t Have To Forego The Holidays This Year

As a family caregiver, you may be tempted to not decorate the tree since your wife with dementia won’t even notice…or you may not want to even consider getting together with family when your husband has lost impulse control and tends to comment on ladies’ bosoms (yes, you’re not alone!).  Even though dementia may provide challenges to the holidays as they do in your daily round, you don’t have to forego the holidays this year…let’s focus on how you and your loved-one-with-dementia can make adjustments in order to enjoy the holidays.

How To Manage Holiday Events

The first step to approaching the holidays, as well as, other events that may be anticipated throughout the year, is to acknowledge expectations surrounding family traditions. Consider the family traditions that mean the most to you and your family, especially the person with dementia.  What do you hope to experience this year?  You may even want to consider making a list of the “events”, noting who hosts the event (especially those that you have traditionally held in your home), whether travel is needed, and prioritize each one.  It’s okay to to say “yes” to what you want and to say “no, thank you” to other events that are not a good fit right now. Saying “no” can even look like a discussion for brainstorming other ideas.  Communicating with family and friends about how Dementia will impact the holidays this year is important so that everyone can adjust their expectations and maybe even offer to help or even host the event.

Invitations are an excellent way to organize the need-to-know information for special events, especially when Dementia is on the guest list:


  • Keep guest list limited to smaller group to ease the experience for both of you,
  • Ask family members or friends (or hire someone) who are familiar to loved-one-with-dementia to be present for social interaction and companionship,
  • Invite family members to contribute to the gathering, such as decorating, bring a dish, meal preparation, clean-up and even transportation.
  • Key question: What would help you enjoy the festivities?


  • What time of day/week is best for you and your loved one
  • Keep with routine as much as possible
  • RSVP- communicate with family/friends so they are aware before the event and can understand what is needed based on the circumstances this year


  • Where will the gathering be held?
  • If you need to travel, you may want to consider asking someone to be a travel companion to relieve the stress of driving/flying;
  • If your loved-one-with-dementia feels uncomfortable or agitated in a new environment, you may want to consider asking if there is a private and quiet space where your loved-one-with-dementia can go to relax, having the event at a favorite restaurant, or in your home;
  • If you typically host a holiday event and it feels like too much this year, you could see this as an opportunity to pass the honor to another family member or friend to host the event while you provide the traditional main dish (this is a good example of how a tradition can be adapted yet maintained);
  • You may want to consider alternatives that include meeting at a local (familiar) restaurant that will offer separate checks for each family or asking family to stay in a hotel rather than staying with you this year.

No matter which holiday(s) you celebrate each year, gift-giving (and receiving) is oftentimes part of the festivities.  If you are part of a large family, you may want to consider drawing names to reduce the amount of shopping and stay within your budget.  Shopping for others can be challenging when it’s difficult to leave home for an extended time (or the idea of finding a parking spot at the mall gives you chills), then consider keeping it simple with personalized gifts (such as family pictures with stories that can be passed along for future generations) or shop online and take advantage of free shipping offers.

Self-Care Is Important Too.

Of course, family caregivers tend to focus on their loved-one-with-dementia, yet taking care of yourself will benefit everyone around you.  In addition to healthy eating and exercise, be sure to stay connected with those who care about your well-being.  Your support team is valuable year-round and may be looking for ways to ease the stress you are feeling, especially during the holidays.  Even gift-giving can be a great opportunity to ask for what you truly want this year: regular phone calls from family/friends, weekly companionship for your loved-one-with-dementia, respite (in the form of a crisp $100 bill or their own time), a gift certificate for insert favorite indulgent activity here, or even a gift card to a favorite local restaurant or grocery store that delivers.  What is it you truly need right now to help you continue on this path?  Be honest with yourself and others for this present could be the one you’ve been waiting to open all year long.


About The Author

Therapist Stefani WilsonStefani Wilson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist offering supportive caregiver counseling with an emphasis on problem-solving, next steps, and self-care strategies. Stefani understands the caregiver’s journey with over 15 years in Sacramento providing care planning, resource connection, and facilitating local caregiver support groups. Stefani offers her expertise in caregiving and compassion fatigue with individuals, couples, siblings, families and large groups (such as continuing education workshops and Alzheimer Association conference). Stefani offers a free 15-minute phone consultation to explore next steps; call 916-595-3974 to schedule.




If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues, talking with a therapist may help you. SacWellness.com is home to over 190 therapists located in Sacramento and surrounding areas. This includes the areas between Davis and El Dorado Hills and between Elk Grove and Auburn. Therapists on SacWellness work with a wide range of issues including chronic illness, chronic pain, and alzheimers

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