The Christmas season should be a joyous occasion for all family members and a time of year for everyone to get together for seasonal fun, treats, dinners, and crafts.
However, Christmas and other aspects of the holiday season may be tricky to navigate if you or a loved one are living with dementia or cognitive impairment symptoms.
In fact, the holiday season may pose an overwhelming and confusing time of year if not handled strategically.
This is where engaging activities like caroling, enjoying nativity scene re-enactments and winter walks, going for a drive to see the lights, and even playing Christmas-themed games or working on a simple craft become more than just something to do!
Learn more about these engaging Christmas activities for individuals with dementia below, including fun and safe Christmas games and simple and creative Christmas crafts.
Plus, we will share tips on what activities to avoid when celebrating the Christmas season with someone with dementia.
Engaging Christmas Activities for Dementia
Here are a few Christmas activities that a loved one with dementia may find engaging and enjoyable:
Take your loved one around the neighborhood to go caroling. You may have to modify the route depending on their mobility.
You can go by car, foot, wheelchair, power chair, or however the weather permits. Individuals with severe dementia may opt to carol at home with a small group of family members.
Nativity Scene Re-enactment
In Christian homes, some families have traditions for re-enacting the birth of Jesus Christ.
Assign your loved one a role (or let them choose one) in the Nativity and assist them in whatever way seems appropriate. Be patient and expect hiccups in the script.
Take your loved one on a short winter walk (or a sleigh ride if it’s accessible to you) to enjoy the winter beauty. Make sure your loved one has suitable winter wear and proper footwear.
Maybe suggest bringing some warm cider or cocoa on your trip to add to the holiday mood.
Christmas Lights Drive
Go on a drive around your neighborhood to admire the Christmas lights on all the houses. Make sure your loved one has an excellent window view.
Reading a Christmas Story to the Family
Pull out your favorite Christmas story to read to the family, whether it’s the First Christmas, A Christmas Carol, or any other classical favorite.
If your loved one feels comfortable, have them read the story or even part of it to the family.
Help your loved one participate in putting up the holiday decorations in the home: wreaths, the Christmas tree, stockings, or whatever traditional trinkets they find meaningful to them.
Watching a Holiday Movie
Pull out the popcorn and the most comfortable blankets to watch a favorite Christmas movie with family and friends.
Attending Christmas Concerts
Take your loved one to a free Christmas concert or symphony to listen to holiday classics. If the concert scene is too overwhelming, live stream a show at home.
Going Christmas Shopping
Get a list ready and help your loved one go Christmas shopping for family members and friends. If mobility is a serious issue, pull out the laptop and help them Christmas shop online from the comforts of their own home.
Setting up for Christmas Dinner
Let your loved one assist you with Christmas dinner. That could include setting the table, polishing silverware, folding napkins, or whatever activity matches their cognitive capacity.
Fun and Safe Christmas Games for Dementia
During those family get-togethers, a way to pass the time is to bring out some Christmas games.
Here are a few that would be appropriate for loved ones with dementia:
White Elephant Exchange
This well-known Christmas tradition is where each family member buys and wraps a present meant to be silly, which is then given to another family member randomly.
Help your loved one with dementia be a part of the game by letting them select a gift and wrapping it up.
Bingo cards with Christmas themes are all over the internet and available for free downloads and prints.
Pin the Tail on Rudolph
Instead of “Pin the tail on the Donkey,” pin the tail on Rudolph adds a little extra Christmas flair to this party tradition. Make sure you supervise your loved one if they have balance or mobility issues since part of the game involves being blindfolded.
Jingle Bell Toss
This is a holiday version of Beer Pong. Instead of using Ping pong balls, you toss jingle bells into cups and keep score.
Christmas Memory Card Games
Memory card games with Christmas characters are available online for free downloads and prints. Still, they can also be accessed as online games.
Antler Ring Toss
Create your own or purchase a craft-made reindeer antler (available at Amazon) that serves as a catcher for rings, candy canes, or other creative lightweight Christmas objects.
Simple but Creative Christmas Crafts for Dementia
Wrapping Christmas Presents
Provide a wide selection of wrapping paper and let your loved one assist in wrapping Christmas presents. If needed, supervise with scissors or any blades on tape dispensers to decrease the risk of injury.
Decorating Christmas Cookies
Pre-make sugar cookies or buy cookies already pre-made and host a cookie decorating party with your loved one. Pull out all the stops with sprinkles, multiple frosting colors, icing tips, etc.
Decorating Christmas Ornaments
There are hundreds of ornaments that can be made for your loved ones’ Christmas trees. Select ones that would be meaningful to them and doable on their cognitive level.
Making Holiday Wreaths
Go to your local craft store and walk down the wreath aisle. There are dozens of options to choose from when mixing and matching artificial botanicals for a Christmas wreath.
There are also online patterns for paper wreaths and hand-tied wreaths.
Decorating Christmas Stockings
Purchase blank fabric or paper stockings and help your loved one decorate each one with Christmas-themed paints, glitters, or other fun craft objects. Hang them up and use them as Christmas decorations.
Making Christmas Cards
Visit any of the hundreds of homemade Christmas card websites to generate your own ideas. Or, keep it simple and let your loved one decide how to decorate a blank card on their own.
See our full list of simple Christmas crafts for dementia in this guide.
Activities to Avoid
When planning activities for an individual with dementia, there aren’t necessarily ones that you should wholly avoid; instead, modify them for safety purposes and cognitive limitations.
Here are a few considerations to take home when planning out your Christmas schedule with a person with dementia:
- If an activity makes your loved one feel silly or like a little child, then put it away and choose something else.
- Be aware of activities that are too loud, that emit flashing lights, or anything that over-stimulates the senses. Some individuals with dementia may easily startle or get agitated by specific environmental triggers. So just assess which ones are specific to your loved one.
- Be cautious with activities that include handling scissors, blades, ovens, or anything else that’s sharp or hot. This is especially important for individuals who are past the moderate stages of dementia.
- If you choose to do crafts or games with a loved one with moderate to severe dementia, watch what they possibly put in their mouth, like small buttons, game pieces, cotton balls, etc.
Can People with Dementia Participate in Holiday Activities?
The straightforward answer is yes, of course! No one should feel socially shunned from their favorite Christmas past times.
Even if their cognition is progressively deteriorating or other family members think it’s unsafe to have them around. Christmas and other holiday celebrations will be appreciated differently from year to year.
However, individuals with dementia can still benefit from the happiness and joy that Christmas brings yearly.
Dementia works through stages of severity: mild, moderate, and severe. You should modify Christmas activities, games, and crafts to match each individual’s needs and cognitive understanding.
With each passing year, the person with dementia may need more and more assistance from their loved ones to participate in holiday activities safely.
Here are a few tips when it comes to presenting your loved ones with dementia with Christmas activities:
- Let them be a part of the selection process. Offer them choices and let them choose the activities they would like to participate in. Do not force them to participate in holiday activities.
- Find activities that are personally meaningful or traditional for them.
- Avoid activities that socially isolate them from others in the family, like a single craft or one-person game.
- Select culturally sensitive activities that reflect your loved one’s ethnicity and racial background.
- Recognize the signs when an activity gets to be too much, not enjoyable, or overwhelming, and allow your loved one to take a break.
Infographic: Christmas Activities for Dementia
Summary and Final Recommendations
The Christmas season is meant to be enjoyable for all family members and friends, including those who feel like they’re cognitively fading away.
Help your loved ones with dementia by selecting Christmas activities that are meaningful to them and that include them in the family social circle.
Modify or adapt Christmas activities accordingly so that each task is engaging and safe.
Make sure your loved one is part of the selection process to validate their opinions and choices during the Christmas season.