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Tips for coping with the festive season

The holiday season can be a challenging time for people living with dementia and their carers. Here are some tips and ideas that might help.

It is that time of the year again when the festive season is upon us! Social gatherings are again becoming the norm, and many will be looking forward to travelling with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. This may mean having more visitors at home or even travelling overseas.

Tips for people with dementia:

  • If you are meeting family members you may not have seen for a long time, they may notice some changes. Acknowledge your feelings about the dementia diagnosis and reach out to your family members and/or friends if you’re ready. Work through if or what you want to tell them about your diagnosis. Try using our Circle-of-Friends-Worksheet  that will help you think through how, what and when to tell family members and friends.
  • Big gatherings can feel overwhelming, but don’t miss out on the fun!
    • Keep gatherings to a small number of people. Try a number of small gatherings than one huge party.
    • Simplify, simplify, simplify! Keep the focus on what matters – connections with other people and ditch the elaborate meals and decorations.
  • If you live alone or have limited family or social connections, do not hesitate to reach out!
    • Seek out companionship with your neighbours or within your community.
    • Some local councils, clubs and churches have celebrations. Support services will know about these in advance, so don’t hesitate to ask.
    • Usual support services may shut down over the holiday period. Talk with support service co-ordinators about alternative supports
    • Read our recent article on Social inclusion for people living with dementia.
  • Plan ahead. Be prepared in advance with meals, shopping, and medications. Pre-arrange services that are essential to your support.
  • When out and about, try avoiding crowds and peak travel times. Use the I-have-dementia-card if you are happy to let others know they may need to be patient.
  • If travelling, be prepared and consider having another person to accompany you through the preparation and the actual trip.
  • It’s OK to say no if you’re not feeling up to it – be it having visitor, or going somewhere, or doing something festive.
  • Do something positive for yourself and make time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy that reduces stress and restores your inner calm. For example, get in to nature, go for a walk, listen to music.
  • Look after yourself – limit your alcohol, maintain healthy habits like eating more vegetables and exercising. Ensure you get adequate rest.
  • Seek help if you need it. The National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500 operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.


Tips for carers:

  • Discuss the holidays with your person and ask how they feel about the usual celebration. It’s OK to have less activities and only stick to some traditions that are most meaningful.
  • If appropriate, give family and friends an honest update about your person’s condition, particularly if they haven’t seen the person in a long time.
  • Do not hesitate to let them know how you or your person want or don’t want to be treated. Read the article: 2.11 Managing how others treat you and the person you support.
  • Prepare your person for visits if helpful, by showing them a photo of the visitor or talking about the visitor before they arrive.
  • Limit the number and size of gatherings and spread them across different days or weeks. Do not hesitate to postpone or even cancel.
  • It is OK to ask guests to use a COVID-19 rapid antigen test (RAT) before visiting, especially if you or the person is in a high-risk group.
  • Have a balance between keeping routine to as close as possible and participating in holiday festivities.
    • Share memories by playing familiar music, serving familiar foods, or doing activities that are part of your favourite traditions.
    • Have plans to redirect or retreat to a quiet space if things become overwhelming.
    • Share the care with family or friends so your person is not left alone when you are hosting an event at home or going out as a group.
  • If travelling, be prepared. Be ready to leave early, check if the destination and accommodation is dementia friendly, plan travel routes, pack extra clothing and food and allow extra time. Read the Forward with dementia tips on travelling with dementia.
  • Last but not least, be kind to yourself.
    • Do something positive for yourself and that you enjoy. Make some time for yourself.
    • Remember, critical or insensitive comments don’t matter. These are usually made be people who are poorly informed. Suggest they read the Forward with dementia website.
    • Ask family and friends for help. Many people are only too wiling but don’t know what might be helpful.
    • It’s always OK to say no!
  • Seek professional help if you need it. The National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500 operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Dementia Support Australia 1800 699 799 also operates 24/7, 365 days a year and will assist carers to manage situations. You can reach out to get advice from either helpline before events. It’s free.

Tips for family and friends:

  • There may be people around you living with, or caring for, someone with dementia. it is easy to become isolated, and this can feel especially hard over the holiday season. Check-in with people with dementia and their carers. If able, offer to drop a meal in, or offer to take them out shopping or a walk, or they may be happy to just have someone to talk to.

We hope these tips are helpful during the festive season. Most importantly, stay safe and enjoy the holidays!