Celebrating the Holidays with Seniors Residing in Assisted Living or Memory Care

Holidays in assisted living & memory care communities can still be fun, festive, and meaningful even if it means embracing new traditions. The holidays are about spending quality time with people you care about. Older adults in assisted living will feel loved and included when you find ways to bring the holiday spirit to them. Remind yourself that what’s most important is celebrating together in a way that works for the current situation.

To help you find ways to celebrate, we’ve outlined answers to three typical questions that can arise.

  • Should I bring mom home to celebrate with the rest of the family?

If mom doesn’t have dementia and you can handle her physical needs and transportation, going to the family home would be a great way to celebrate the holidays. Before deciding, talk with her to see how she feels about it. She may be concerned about getting too tired or needing help with personal care. Reassure her by explaining how her needs can be met. If she’s feeling shy or afraid that she’ll be a burden during a fun time, remind her of how much the family is looking forward to seeing her.

If your mom does have Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other cognitive impairments, it may be disorienting to take her out of a familiar environment. Staff members who know her well may help you decide what would work best. Some people with dementia enjoy festive events, but others are easily rattled by changes in routine, loud noises, or crowds. If your mom is likely to get agitated, it might be better to have a quiet mini-celebration in her room or just have a regular visit.

  • My dad has dementia. This year, he doesn’t even seem to know that it’s the holidays. Will he even know or care if we celebrate with him?

Even if your dad doesn’t seem engaged with the world, he’ll still enjoy spending time with you and family. You may or may not want to take him out of assisted living, depending on how well he usually does with outings. If he typically enjoys going out, then it may be a good idea. If not, turn the visit into a festive occasion if that’s likely to bring him joy.

It’s a perfect time to reminisce over old photos, sing along or listen to holiday music, or admire cheerful decorations. Unless he becomes agitated or upset by activities or change in routine, seeing you in the holiday spirit will likely brighten his day.

  • What activities can I do to celebrate the holidays with someone in memory care?

If your loved one has dementia, a low-key approach to the holidays may work better. Overstimulating holiday activities or busy decorations could be confusing or cause agitation. Start with a few simple decorations and smaller groups of visitors and see how things go. You can always add more or take some away, depending on the reaction.

For seniors with cognitive impairment, find creative ways to help them take part in family celebrations. Reassure your older adult that they won’t be forgotten or abandoned by telling them when you’ll celebrate with them.

Try these festive activity suggestions:

  • Decorate their apartment/room together. Get a mini tree, use garland to make a tree-shaped outline on the wall and tape ornaments onto it. Put a few decorative items around the room, or hang a wreath on the door
  • Help them think of and purchase gifts for kids and grandkids and wrap them together.
  • Arrange a family visit and open presents together it’s more fun when the whole group has presents to open
  • For family members living far away, arrange video chats so they can virtual visitors
  • Accompany them to a holiday event or meal hosted by the community at which they reside
  • Sing along with or listen to holiday songs together
  • Watch a holiday-themed movie
  • Work on a holiday-themed puzzle or a fun coloring page