Christmas Decorations for Seniors with Dementia (Ideas and Dangers)

Christmas decorations are a big part of the overall holiday feel of most homes. Learn more about the dangers of Christmas decorations for people with dementia plus some safer decorating ideas and options.

Registered Licensed Occupational Therapist
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Decorating for Christmas is just one of the fun ways to ring in the holiday season, and it’s a time-honored tradition for many families.

However, you should take some considerations when putting up Christmas decorations in a home for someone with dementia.

A loved one who was once an avid Christmas lover with interior decorating bragging rights may not recall those days and instead seeks simplicity within their scary world.

As part of our Christmas With Dementia series, this article will discuss the dangers and challenges that Christmas decorations may pose for people with dementia, appropriate Christmas decoration ideas for dementia, and which ones you should avoid

So keep on reading to learn more – or – we have video and audio-only options for you too!

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What Dangers and Challenges Do Christmas Decorations Cause for People With Dementia

Men and women who live with dementia heavily rely on routine and structure in a world that is slowly crumbling around them.

Predictable environments make them feel safe and help them adhere to their daily living tasks more independently and safely. This is why putting up Christmas decorations every year can be a little unsettling for them.

Christmas decorations for seniors with dementia dangers
Putting up Christmas decorations can disrupt the daily living pattern of seniors with dementia.

A single event in their year disrupts their living patterns, throws their routine off course, and can be the basis for behavioral issues. Let’s take a look at the following example:

Sheila is a 73-year-old woman living in an assisted living facility. She has been receiving memory care services for dementia for approximately four years.

Every year, her daughter comes in and helps Sheila decorate her apartment for the Christmas season. Unfortunately, Sheila’s cognitive impairments have worsened with each passing year, and her usual decorations have disrupted her living routine.

Her daughter likes to replace her soap dispenser with a cute Santa figurine dispenser. Unfortunately, Sheila doesn’t recognize it as soap and neglects to wash her hands.

The once beautiful nutcracker figurines that adorned her tabletop now scare her. She now mistakes the bell on her Christmas train decoration for her phone.

Family members and friends typically have good intentions when putting up Christmas decorations for people with dementia.

Unfortunately, their reaction might be unexpected and negative due to cognitive deterioration.

Family members must be in tune with what decorations may startle, confuse, or sadden our loved ones rather than bring them joy during the holiday season.

It may take a little bit of trial and error, and your loved one’s preferences may change as the disease progresses. Still, you can settle on some beautiful and simple decorations together. 

Christmas Decoration Ideas for Dementia

Decorating for Christmas is supposed to be a cherished tradition among many families, and the intention is to bring joy and holiday nostalgia.

When decorating for a loved one with dementia, ensure you do it for the right reasons. It should genuinely make them happy and not hinder their daily routine.

Here are a few tips when decorating for a loved one with dementia:

Take It Slow

Maybe only start with one or two simple decorations at a time. Let your loved one choose the decorations and decide where to place them in their home.

As dementia progresses, you may have to declutter and simplify the decorations every year to avoid confusion and adverse behavioral reactions.

Highlight Decorations With Special Memories

Choose a decoration that is memorable and meaningful for your loved one. We’re not going for optimal interior design here.

The goal is to bring joy during the Christmas season.

Maybe your loved one will find joy in a simple, old-tattered decoration that means very little to others but means the world to them.

Observe Their Behavior After Decorating

Check-in with your loved one often to see how they navigate around their decorations. Notice if anything changes about their routine, especially for the worse.

Keep the Floor Clear

Choose decorations that can be hung up off the floor so that there are no added tripping hazards in the living space.

Choose Lightweight Decorations

Choose decorations that are beautiful and lightweight. That way, no one gets hurt if your loved one drops the decoration or throws it in a moment of aggression.

Consider DIY Decorations

Maybe help your loved one find more meaning in their decorations by assisting them in making their own through a simple arts and crafts activity.

Christmas decorations for seniors with dementia avoid
Make sure to avoid decorations that can be mistaken as edible foods.

Christmas Decorations to Avoid with Dementia

Has your loved one progressed into the moderate to severe stages of dementia and become very set and structured in their daily routine?

Consider the following tips on what to avoid in Christmas decorations:

Decorations That Mimic Daily Use Items

Avoid decorations that replace essential objects they use during the day: phone cases, soap dispensers, salt and pepper shakers, clocks, calendars, rugs, plates, silverware, etc. They may not recognize the object’s designated function and therefore go without.

Decorations That Sit on the Floor

Avoid decorations that clutter the floor and create a tripping hazard: corner or hallway standing decorations, throw rugs, etc.

Decorations That Clutter Walls and Surfaces

Avoid placing tons of figurines on countertops as this can add to the clutter, making it very difficult for them to locate essential objects to maintain their daily routine. 

If you decide to hang or tape anything on the wall, do so with simplicity and care. Too many items on the wall that aren’t there all year round could result in confusion and agitation.

Life-Size Inflatable Decorations

Avoid lifesize decorations like blow-ups of movie characters because these can be very startling and life-like for individuals with dementia.

Decorations That Resemble Food

Avoid decorations that look like edible foods: artificial or ornamental gingerbread cookies, candy canes, or other festive desserts. In the later stages of dementia, someone can easily mistake fake food for real food and choke on inedible objects.

Decorations With Strobe Effects

Limit decorations that emit strobe or bright lights that cast uneven shadows across the room or living space. This could disorient the individual and lead to falls. 

Fragile or Glass Ornaments

Avoid objects that are glass or fragile. This is if your loved one decides to start re-arranging or ripping decorations down while you’re gone (it happens in a state of panic or when they’re looking for structure). If they accidentally knock over decorations, things won’t shatter and injure them if they’re non-breakable. 

Finally, avoid decorating your loved one’s house how YOU see fit. Remember, you are not decorating to make a perfect Christmas or to recreate every Christmas from your childhood.

Your loved one has impairments that are frightening and that need to be respected. Respect them and their living space.

Work with them and only put up Christmas decorations that they approve of.

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Summary and Final Recommendations

Seniors living with dementia can enjoy Christmas, even with limiting cognitive impairments that change how they perceive their world and the significance behind their traditions.

Families and friends can help loved ones with dementia ring in the holiday festivities by selecting meaningful Christmas decorations for their living space. Remember, decorating will not be the same as past Christmases.

Changes will need to be made to keep them safe and to help them feel secure within their routine and structure. Help them select a few holiday decorations that will bring them happiness without complicating their lives. 

Keep Reading About Christmas With Dementia

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22 Christmas Activities for Seniors with Dementia
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Christmas with Dementia: The Ultimate Guide for the Holiday Season
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Dementia Friendly Christmas Tree (Safer Trees and Decorations)
Christmas Songs for Patients with Dementia
Christmas Songs for People with Dementia (Party Music & Hymns)
Easy Christmas Crafts for Dementia
8 Easy Christmas Crafts for Seniors with Dementia (Fun Too!)

Meredith Chandler, OTR/L

Registered/Licensed Occupational Therapist

Meredith has worked as an occupational therapist for 9 years and as a content writer for 6 years. She primarily works with the geriatric population, focusing on their rehabilitative needs and instructing caregivers and family members for home care. Her specialties include ADL training, neurological re-education, functional mobility training, adaptive equipment education, and wheelchair assessment and mobility training. She is a painter, a musician, and a mother of 4 who loves spending time with her family,

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