How to Communicate with a Person with Dementia During the Holidays

Holiday times can be overwhelming for caregivers and those with dementia. Establishing a holiday routine calendar can help maintain a sense of normalcy.

This visual tool can outline festive events and daily activities, aiding in keeping track and reducing stress.

Are you struggling with how to communicate effectively with a loved one who has dementia, especially during the holiday season?

We know it can be a challenging time for both caregivers and those living with dementia.

In this episode, we'll explore three key tips to enhance communication and make the holiday season more enjoyable for everyone involved.

0:00:00 Introduction

0:02:40 Stressful Impact of Non-Routine Holiday Gatherings on Caregivers and Person with Dementia

0:03:32 Considerations for Dementia Person with Dementia during Holiday Travel and Vacation

0:03:59 Maintaining a structured routine during the holiday season

0:06:38 Controlling the environment and setting boundaries for loved ones with dementia

0:10:53 Importance of face-to-face communication and adapting to their needs

0:15:00 Don't Correct, Validate: Communicating with Loved Ones with Dementia

0:16:12 Capturing Lasting Memories: Take Photos and Videos

0:17:11 Apply to Speak and Get Help with Dementia Caregiving

0:17:29 Tips for Dementia Caregivers: Validate and Connect

0:18:17 Connect and Share: Join the Dementia Caregiving Community

Maintaining a Structured Routine

The holiday season often disrupts our usual routines, which can be particularly unsettling for individuals with dementia. To minimize stress and confusion, try to maintain a structured routine as much as possible.

A holiday routine calendar can be a helpful tool.

This visual guide can outline holiday schedules and events, assisting your loved one in staying oriented and reducing anxiety. Remember, the goal is to make the holidays enjoyable, not overwhelming.

Hand of an elderly woman in the garden of a nursing home or retirement home playing with games to improve the mobility of the hands smiling | |Activities

Creating a Sensory-Friendly Environment

People with dementia may become easily overwhelmed by overstimulation.

To create a sensory-friendly environment, consider reducing excessive noise and bright, flashing lights.

Instead, opt for decorations that engage the senses in a gentle way, like soft music, subtle lighting, and familiar scents like cinnamon or pine.

A calm and comforting environment can significantly improve communication and interaction with your loved one.

Tailoring Gift-Giving

When choosing gifts for a person with dementia, it’s important to consider their current abilities and interests.

Opt for dementia-friendly gifts that can provide comfort, like weighted blankets, or stimulate the mind, such as simple jigsaw puzzles or memory books.

The Alzheimer's Store ( offers a variety of suitable gift options. Remember, the best gifts are those that bring joy and comfort to your loved one.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Correct, Validate

One of the most important aspects on how to communicate with a person with dementia is to validate their feelings rather than correct them.

This approach fosters a deeper connection and reduces potential frustration or anxiety. Engage in conversations that focus on their feelings and experiences, and try to see the world from their perspective.

a woman and an old woman looking at a book | Memory Loss vs Forgetfulness


Communicating with a loved one who has dementia during the holidays requires patience, understanding, and a bit of creativity.

By maintaining a structured routine, creating a sensory-friendly environment, and choosing appropriate gifts, you can make the holiday season a time of joy and connection.

And remember, validation is key to effective communication.

Embrace the holiday spirit with love and compassion, and you'll create cherished memories that last a lifetime.

Read More:

One Mistake A Dementia Caregiver Makes By Not Traveling With Kathy Smith Shoaf

Check the other podcast:

Email me: [email protected]

Message me at Instagram:

Listen to the Podcast

Listen to the episode on the player above, click here to download the episode  and take it with you or listen anywhere you normally listen to podcasts.


[0:02] Welcome to Episode 66, How to Communicate with a Person with Dementia During the Holidays, where we went over three things and then I had a bonus tip for you at the end, so stick around to hear what the bonus tip is.

Hey there, success seeker. Welcome to Dementia Caregiving for Families.

Do you feel overwhelmed with the daily struggle of dementia caregiving?

Looking for an easier path.

You're in the right place.

On this podcast, we teach you the skills to simplify caregiving.

We unravel the mystery of dementia and guide you through the often difficult behaviors.

I'm Lizette, your host and fellow family caregiver.

As an occupational therapist, I bring my professional and personal experience to this community.

Professional and Personal Experience in Dementia Caregiving

[0:59] Here we speak the truth but without the verbal vomit.

I know you will find value in today's program so buckle up while this flight takes off.

[1:13] Well welcome back. Today we are going to talk about how to communicate with a person with dementia during the holidays.

Now, this program is really not just about the holidays, right?

But the holidays do bring some unique challenges to us because our total routine might be unusual and out of the norm.

And what I mean by that is oftentimes, when we're helping somebody living with dementia, we have people who are their primary person, who primarily takes care of them, who knows how to, or hopefully knows how to communicate well with them.

But during the holidays, we have all sorts of other people coming in, and our routines are entirely.

[2:07] In upset and not normal, and things can be very different, and sometimes the challenges come in, because the primary people who are caring for the person living with dementia.

[2:24] Are under stress under normal circumstances because they're caring for somebody with dementia, but now they are under even more stress because it's the holidays and sometimes we have families coming in and visiting and things are not normal.

Stressful Impact of Non-Routine Holiday Gatherings on Caregivers and Dementia Patients

[2:40] I've seen this with my own dad around Thanksgiving when we had some people come over.

It was my great idea and it was a good idea. It was a wonderful day.

Thanksgiving was a great day.

My husband and I don't have space for us to have people over at our house and we know some other South Africans in the area and so we got together for Thanksgiving at my mom and dad's house where we brought everybody to them but it actually caused my dad a fair amount of stress because he was trying to be on top of everything even though we had taken care of all of the food and everything.

[3:16] So the reason I brought that up is because sometimes inadvertently we don't even know that we are causing the person that we love that we're helping with dementia stress because things are not routine and familiar anymore.

Considerations for Dementia Patients during Holiday Travel and Vacation

[3:32] So the first thing I want you to consider, most of us have been on holiday before, most of us have gone on vacation, right?

And when you're on vacation, even though it's great and you're not in your normal environment and you're away from home and you get an opportunity to rest, just being out of your normal environment and out of your routine.

[3:55] Think about when the kids were young, right?

Maintaining a structured routine during the holiday season

[3:59] How stressful sometimes that can actually be.

So when your kids are, when you took your kids on vacation and they were younger, they didn't go to bed at the same time and they got up and then in the evenings they were more cranky because their routine is not normal.

The same thing can happen with the person that we love with dementia when we're in the holidays, right? in the holiday season.

[4:26] So as best possible, if you can maintain a very structured routine during the holiday season, it will improve your ability to communicate with the person that you are helping with dementia during the holiday season.

And if you're the primary care partner, the primary care person in their life and you know what kind of things make things worse, even though it is difficult, and I recognize it is, for you to maybe say to the people coming to visit that they need to give you some space or give mom some space or give dad some space, even though it's difficult for you to put up those boundaries for the person living with dementia, it is very important that you do.

It is, you know, it's called a catastrophic reaction. What is a catastrophic reaction?

Well, a catastrophic reaction we've all seen. Every single one of us have seen.

We've seen them in children.

[5:37] Most of the time, it's that child that you see in the grocery store throwing a temper tantrum because they couldn't get what they wanted, right?

The response that they had was way out of proportion to the input, the stimulus that came in.

Well, a person living with dementia can have a catastrophic reaction sometimes, because we, the people around them, don't recognize is that they've had enough, that they've had too much, that we've pushed too far.

And so as the primary care partner, as the primary person helping that person living with dementia, it's up to me to recognize, when we might be getting close to the point where we step over that line and we actually cause that reaction.

But maintaining a structured routine as best you can during the holiday season can help to avoid these catastrophic responses.

Controlling the environment and setting boundaries for loved ones with dementia

[6:38] So before Christmas Day, today's December the 18th, when this recording will go live, talk to the people coming in, if people are coming in.

If you're going to somebody else's house, talk to them about where's a spot that you could maybe take your loved one who is living with dementia that might be getting to the point where they have had enough is enough so that you can control the environment, right?

So remember that maintaining a structured routine as best you can will help you to be able to communicate well with the person living with dementia during the holidays.

The second point I wanna bring up today is pick your poison.

Now, what do you mean by that, Lizette? Well, pick your poison.

You've gotta decide what you're willing to put up with, right, so you gotta pick your poison. If you...

Allow everything to get out of control if you don't keep a main and maintain a routine if you don't control The environment that the person living with dementia is in you may inadvertently.

[7:44] Step in it, right?

You might have to can do less than you normally would because you want to control the responses you get you want to control the the emotional connection that you make with the person that you love with dementia, right?

So depending on the person's level of abilities, we may have to control the environment more by doing less, right?

And what I mean by that is, I always tell people when I work with them as my patients and my clients, you know, when it's difficult to get somebody out of the house, sometimes our response is because we've gotten them out of the house, Let us go to the doctor, the grocery store, have your hair cut, and out for a meal, right?

And it's just way too much. Maybe we just need to go to the doctor.

So depending on the person's ability level, you may have to control the environment more and do less because it's better.

And you might have to really be very aware of what is going on with the person that you're taking around and that you're with, for their nonverbal signs that enough is enough, right? And we all have those.

[9:03] Sometimes it is difficult, though, because I'm enjoying myself, and I don't want to recognize that this person is getting to the end of their rope, and I don't want to take them home.

I don't want to ask the visitors to leave, because I perceive that to be rude.

I don't think it's rude. It's kind of like when you have a baby, right?

When people have a baby, everybody wants to come visit, but sometimes you have to say to them, it's nap time. It's time for you to go home.

And in the case of living with and helping.

[9:34] People with dementia, sometimes we as the primary care partner have to be the ones to say no, putting up boundaries, saying no, this is too much, it's time for them to go home, right?

It's time for my loved one to have a little bit more of a break.

What that can look like in order for you to communicate better with the person living with dementia in the holidays is you control the environment.

Put mom in a quiet corner. Mom's not in the room with everybody, but mom's in a quiet corner, and one by one, people go to mom to visit with mom so that they can really interact with her, so that they can really communicate and make good connections and take the time to do that.

So the first point was a structured routine as best you can during the holiday season.

It's up to us as the primary care partner to be able to keep them in a routine as best we can and tell the people around them what the routine is and how to structure it.

We have to pick our poison depending on their level of abilities.

We may have to control the environment more. We may have to be the person who is putting up more boundaries.

[10:47] But the third point today that we're going to talk about is I'm going to start

Importance of face-to-face communication and adapting to their needs

[10:53] with a fun story. I used to be a manager at a facility in.

As an occupational therapist i used to be a manager and i'd be focused on the task at hand right we we have the ability to focus on certain things and ignore other things most of the time, and it's called attention switching so sometimes i'd be sitting at my computer and i'd be frantically typing and thinking and focused on the task and somebody comes in and says says something to me that i want to take this day off and because my attention hasn't actually switched from what I was doing to what the person was saying, but what comes out of my mouth is, uh-huh, because I acknowledge the person coming in.

They think I've said, yes, they can take that day off, and then I have no recollection afterwards that I actually acknowledged them.

They are wanting to take that day off, and I'm like, but we don't have the staff, right?

We've all had periods of time like that where we're focused on a task, where we're doing something, somebody comes in, and our attention hasn't fully switched from what we're doing to what the person's saying, and for the most part, there's nothing wrong with me, right?

But all of us have had these situations, every single one of us.

[12:09] When we're helping or when we're communicating with somebody with dementia, we have to consider that sometimes, if we're talking to them in a different room, if they're in a different room and you're asking them to do something or you're asking them something, and they just acknowledge what you have said by saying yes or uh-huh or, you know, whatever, just a sound that acknowledges that they actually heard you, that doesn't mean that they actually heard you, that they actually, that the information went in.

So when you're, during this holiday season, I want you to make it a concerted effort that when you are communicating with the person that you love with dementia, that you're doing it face-to-face, right?

That you're not on the other side of the room communicating with them and actually thinking that they have processed and heard what you have to say.

You want to make sure that you're facing them face-to-face, that you're there speaking to them, and that you, that if you want to make sure that they've actually heard the information, you just ask them to, you know, in a nice way, so tell me, tell me what the plans are for today.

You know, try to get the information back from them.

As a person is progressing through a dementia journey, their ability to, their world literally shrinks from.

[13:37] A big world into a world that's just six to eight inches in front of them.

So we want to consider that when we're trying to communicate with somebody that we might not be communicating well because we're not right in front of them making eye contact and seeing them and having them acknowledge that we're there, using shorter sentences, giving the person time to process, which can be very hard because sometimes it can take up to 60 to 90 seconds for the person to actually have received and processed the information but we all go on right 60 to 90 seconds is a long time but you know we can do it we can all do it we can just slow down it's hard to slow down I know I talk really fast I get that but I can slow down and I do slow down with the people that I work with who have dementia.

I'm able to slow down and really take my time with them and it's not easy but if you put it in the front of your mind you can you can do it for sure.

[14:50] So the three tips for today oh here's a here's a an extra a a top tip for you during this holiday period.

Don't Correct, Validate: Communicating with Loved Ones with Dementia

[15:00] Don't correct the person that you love with dementia.

This is not about right or wrong. This is not about reasoning with them.

This is not about being in control and being right. We're beyond that point, people.

Do not correct anybody who is living with dementia.

It doesn't really matter where they're at in their journey.

It's not a helpful thing. I've noticed over the years that the more we correct people living with dementia, actually, the more anxiety we create for them.

The more we actually are creating the anger and the anxiety and a lot of these emotions that we see people have. But validate what they're feeling.

Acknowledge that they might be frustrated, but don't correct them.

Try to just ask questions like, well, tell me more about it.

Just get information, try to connect with the person in a different way and remember it is not about being right.

It is about connecting with the loved, with the person that you love.

It's about making lasting memories during this period of time during the holidays.

Capturing Lasting Memories: Take Photos and Videos

[16:12] And it is about taking photos and being in the moment.

Don't forget to take photos, guys. Take videos. You're not going to regret it later on.

Every person I've worked with whose loved one has passed away will tell you they are so grateful for having made the time and for having taken the photos and the videos.

So don't be afraid of taking photos. Don't be afraid of taking videos.

Live in the moment and enjoy this period of time.

So three tips to communicating with a person during the holidays.

Maintaining a structured routine, picking your poison and making sure that when you communicate with them that you're doing it face to face.

And my top tip for the day is don't correct, just validate.

Don't reason, just connect with the person that you love.

If you resonated with me and you're ready to dive deeper into this, I invite you to go to.

Apply to Speak and Get Help with Dementia Caregiving

[17:12] forward slash apply. You can apply to to speak with me and we can see how I can help you on your journey.

Have a wonderful rest of the week. I will catch you in the next episode.

Tips for Dementia Caregivers: Validate and Connect

[17:29] Thank you for joining me yet again for today's episode where we looked at those three tips and one top tip, which is don't correct, just validate and connect with the person that you love.

If you resonate with me, please join me on my free Facebook group, which is also called Dementia Caregiving for Families, and subscribe to this podcast.

If you like these episodes, please, please, please share them with other people.

I really have a passion to help family caregivers of people living with dementia, so like and subscribe to this podcast, write me a review on Apple Podcasts, I read them, quite good at going in every single day and looking and seeing if I've got more reviews.

Connect and Share: Join the Dementia Caregiving Community

[18:17] I love to hear from you, I would love to hear how I have hopefully blessed you, and I hope to see you in the next episode, and have a wonderful week, and the Lord bless you and keep you. Please remember something guys.

I do pray for you every day people who are family caregivers of people living with dementia and reach out Connect with me.

You can find all of my handles and all of the places in the show notes.

So go ahead and connect Thanks. See you next time.

[18:47] Thanks for joining me today, Success Seeker. I pour my heart and soul into this program to serve you.

You can serve me by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts and join our free Facebook group, Dementia Caregiving for Families.

It's a positive and proactive space to navigate dementia caregiving together.

Get practical tools and find support, but without the verbal vomit.

Be a part of our community where we seek to find peace of mind and ease despite the dementia diagnosis.

So join today and see you next time as our friend.

lizette cloete as family caregiver

Subscribe To Dementia Caregiving For Families Podcast

If you feel like dementia caregiving is hard and unpredictable and you are struggling to help a spouse or a parent living with dementia, join our next free workshop.

Join our Facebook Group at: 

Become a  Member of Our Exclusive Program!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

About the author

“Think Different” Dementia’s owner, Lizette Cloete, OTR/L graduated as an Occupational Therapist from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1992. Lizette has almost 30 years of experience as an Occupational Therapist in a variety of settings, the latest being in the home health environment. She enjoys teaching on the topic of dementia, most recently presenting at a national conference on the topic “Dementia Made Simple”.

Disclaimer: These blogs, videos and any work done by Lizette Cloete OT, as a Member of Think Different Dementia, LLC, is given only as educational content and consulting work. This does not create an Occupational Therapist-Patient Relationship. The educational content and consulting work performed should not be considered medical treatment as an Occupational Therapist. The consulting work does not take the place of medical work normally performed by a licensed Occupational Therapist. Please consult a licensed Occupational Therapist for medical advice.

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!