Illustration of a yellow heart surrounded by sparks. Used as a decorative design element.

Keep the 'happy' in any holiday

Share this story
A guide for anyone touched by dementia during holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, they say… but is it? Really?? Sometimes holidays leave us feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, and burnt out by the time it's over.

And when you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, or experiencing symptoms yourself, the hype can bring on a brand-new set of challenges that’s extra taxing. It’s often easy to overdo it, too.  (I'm cooking this from scratch!)

Allow us to share some practical tips to help keep the "happy" in your holidays. Balancing the festivities with your own needs requires thoughtful planning and a focus on creating moments of happiness.

Try these:

Avoid overscheduling: Do you say yes (and sometimes overcommit) to avoid disappointing people? Or feel guilty declining invites? Be patient with yourself. Try not to overdo it. Consider what you can handle without feeling overwhelmed and be honest with people. Be open to adapting your plans, putting your well-being and comfort of your loved ones first. You can plan to meet up after the holiday as an alternative. You might be surprised how many people understand, as they might also feel pressured, too. 😊

Embrace what’s familiar: For people with dementia, what’s familiar can be especially important and meaningful. Consider incorporating cherished traditions and routines into your plans. Whether it's a favourite movie, a familiar recipe, or a beloved decoration, these familiar elements provide a sense of continuity and comfort.

Simplify your get-togethers: Large groups, multiple conversations and background noise can be overwhelming for a person with dementia. Consider having smaller gatherings and shorter timeframes to avoid sensory overload. Choose a time when people often feel their best (i.e., Are they really a night owl? Are you?) Have a backup plan in case anyone feels anxious or distressed, so you're prepared to handle the situation.

Host socials at home to reduce your travel time, removing things like traffic and weather from your list of concerns. If you’re not excited about cooking and cleaning, leave the cooking to someone else. There are a plethora of take-out and catering options available. Ask a friend for help with cleaning or decorating.

Local supermarkets offer ready-made meals and food delivery services. Or make cooking a relaxed and enjoyable group activity where everyone can pitch in and support you. Potlucks are usually a hit. Don’t love these? You can also opt for a night of dining out.

Have open conversations: The holidays are about connecting with the ones you love, and the ones who love you. Do your best to be open about what’s going on in your life. Sometimes we tend to tiptoe around issues and stick to the small talk. Use this time to share your day-to-day challenges with family and friends. It's an opportunity for them to learn, understand and support you, and a chance to ask for help where you need it most.

Gifting without the hassle: Get creative with alternative ways to give and stick to a manageable budget. Shop online, send money, or ask people to pick up items while they’re out. If all else fails, consider re-gifting items you may have tucked away in storage. (Just make sure you’re not re-gifting to the person who originally gave it to you! LOL)

Put yourself first: It’s that age-old advice, ‘put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.’ Taking care of yourself is crucial. Take short breaks, get support from friends and family, and do activities that fill your cup. Try not to isolate yourself. Connecting with others and socializing is great for your brain health.

Move around: This can include activities like dancing, going for walks, playing pickleball, or doing yoga. Do what makes you happy. Your movement reduces stress levels and increases endorphins. It also reduces your risk of diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, cholesterol and vascular dementia.

Focus on the ‘present’: Pun intended. Aim to create moments of joy instead of entire weekends, days or long evenings. Take photos and videos and capture those memories to cherish in the future!

While caring for someone living with dementia can present challenges, there are still ways to keep the "happy" in any holiday. If you need extra support or have questions, please reach out for free support at Alzheimer Calgary at 403-290-0110 or

Talk to someone local who gets it