Preparing for Holiday Visits When Your Loved One Has Dementia

Author: Maine Veterans' Homes
Posted: November 30, 2016
Category: Dementia and Memory Care

Planning for the holidays can be challenging when your spouse has memory care needs, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Whether you are hosting a family meal at your home, are planning to travel to see your children or will be visiting your spouse at a memory care center, there are certain things you can do ahead of time to help ensure a joyful holiday visit for all.

Preparing Family For a Visit, When Dad Has Dementia

Having the children and grandchildren all together for a holiday meal and gift giving is a tradition many look forward to each year.

You can already hear the laughter and joy filling your home! Yet, you also worry about how the commotion may affect your husband and his dementia, or how the children may react to changes in his condition.

Take time to talk with family members before the holidays. Make sure everyone understands the situation and has realistic expectations. Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine to not upset dad.

Communicate any changes they may notice since the last time you were all together. Let them know certain things that may cause dad to get confused or upset. Also, remind them to not get offended if he says or does something out of the ordinary.

Clear communication about the diagnosis and progression is not only beneficial to family members, but is also a benefit to your spouse as well. Studies have found dementia patients often gain a sense of relief as they no longer have to worry about making excuses.

In fact, a 2016 study found that people, after getting the diagnosis of dementia or mild cognitive impairment, had high scores in appreciation and acceptance of life; less concern about failure; self-reflection, tolerance of others, and courage to face problems in life; stronger relationships and new opportunities to meet people. The diagnosis did not lead to depression, denial and disrepair as some may expect.

Visiting Your Loved One at a Memory Care Center

No matter whether your spouse is at home or in a memory care center, look forward to celebrating the holidays just as you have in past years. Accept that you may need to let go of a tradition or celebrate in a different way. However, there are still many ways to capture wonderful family moments and enjoy the spirit of the season.

Share these tips with your children and other family members:

  1. Keep the visit simple. Remember, the best gift is often the gift of time spent together. Lots of gifts and commotion can be overwhelming to a person with memory care needs, while a cup of coffee, conversation and hug can be simply perfect.
  2. Be flexible to his schedule and needs. Mornings may be better than evenings for dad, or he may respond differently than the last visit. It is important to know this is part of the disease process and not what you said or did.
  3. Visit in small groups. This can lessen chances of overstimulation and also provide valuable one-on-one time together.
  4. Plan something fun based on his interests. Share pictures and stories from favorite memories of the past. Make a scrapbook together or bring nostalgic items to trigger memories. Keep a logbook of what you do or talk about during this visit. This can be a great conversation starter when other family members visit and may give them ideas as well.
  5. Check out the memory care or assisted living center’s activity schedule for holiday events. They likely have specific activities planned for those with memory care needs. Schedule your visit so you can attend with your loved one.

Traveling with Your Spouse who has Dementia

Planning ahead is the best advice when traveling with a loved one who has dementia. Realize that oftentimes travel is still fairly comfortable and enjoyable during the early stages of dementia, but as the disease progresses, travel can be increasingly stressful and overwhelming. If so, explain this to family and allow them to do the traveling during the holidays.

If you do choose to travel, use these tips:

  • Travel during the time of day that is best for your spouse. If he seems to feel better in the mornings, plan the drive or flight for that time.
  • Try to keep the routine similar to his current daily routine. Sometimes the small things, such as eating breakfast at a specific time or having a favorite pillow, can help avoid chances of confusion and irritation.
  • Changes in environment can trigger wandering or disorientation. Be sure he wears an ID bracelet. If he does not already have an ID bracelet, this is a good opportunity to give him one. Also put your phone number and list of medical conditions in his wallet.
  • Plan extra time, and be flexible. Don’t be surprised when something unexpected happens, or if you need to pull over for an extra break if your spouse gets overwhelmed. It may be best to avoid traveling during peak times, including the actual holiday. Consider planning the trip to see the kids the week before Christmas or maybe in early January to avoid busy highways and crowded airports.
  • Also, consult with your spouse’s physician or caregiver first to see if they recommend travel. They can provide guidance on how to plan the trip so it is comforting and enjoyable for your spouse and you.


Maine Veterans’ Homes has six locations throughout Maine, each welcoming our honored veterans. Contact Maine Veterans’ Homes online or give us a call at 800-278-9494.  Maine Veterans' Homes is an independent nonprofit organization serving Maine's veterans and families.