Tips for Holiday Interactions with Family Members who are Living with Dementia

Many people whose mother, father or spouse live in a memory community are wondering whether they should visit if their family member no longer recognizes them, or if they become upset during or at the end of the visit. Our recommendation is unequivocally YES. Some simple tips can help make the most of this time for everyone.

Make sure you understand where in time your family member currently “lives”, and structure your interaction accordingly. Bring objects that relate to that time period to help focus conversations or elicit long-term memories. Do not correct their assumptions and beliefs. For the duration of the visit, their reality is all that matters.

Speak slowly and keep the tone of your voice low and gentle. If there is too much commotion in a common area, find a quiet place to sit. People with dementia are easily overwhelmed by stimuli that others are able to screen out and put into context.

Remember that a pleasant interaction remains in someone’s “emotional memory” although their factual memory may be gone. Tell someone how good it is to see them, and how much you are enjoying your time together. If touch is appropriate, hug them or hold their hand. When the time of the visit draws to a close, do not say “Goodbye”. Instead make sure they are transitioned to another activity and/or caregiver and tell them you’ll be back “in a little while” or “soon”. If necessary come up with a reason, even something mundane like using the restroom. With appropriate distraction, departure need not be distressing.

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