December 2023 Newsletter


Dementia and the Holiday Season

December newsletter

The temperature is dropping, the days are getting shorter, and often caregivers feel like their to-do lists are only growing longer. With freezing temperatures, the risk of falling on ice increases, and often older adults find themselves stuck inside, bored and sedentary. And yet with some advanced planning, moments of joy need not be elusive. Here are a few of our suggestions about how to enhance the holiday season for both you and your loved one:

Add Music: Music stimulates almost every part of the brain. Often people enjoy listening to music and even as Dementia progresses, rhythmic abilities are often preserved, making music a great medium for connecting with a loved one, verbal or non-verbal. Simply singing a classic holiday song with your loved one can be beneficial. Large print copies of song lyrics can aid in the recall of the songs and may be especially helpful for those in the early to mid-stages of dementia. If you have access to a large screen, consider searching for music videos with lyrics.

Add Meaning: Often, we will hear from people living with Dementia that they miss the feeling of “being needed”, the days when they used to have a job that relied on them or a family to feed. Meaningful activities, relate to the person’s prior occupations or lifelong values, can be used to fill that gap. A retired nurse might enjoy making no-sew fleece blankets to donate to a local hospital. A retired lawyer presented with the opportunity to sign stacks of holidays cards, might feel a renewed sense of autonomy and control.

Tasks based on a person’s lifelong values can also be meaningful. For someone who values family, find simple tasks that the person can still easily do that will help the family during the holidays. Possible ideas include writing names on place cards, gift wrapping or setting the table. Likewise, if the person values helping others, ask them directly for their help. Find tasks that you know your loved one will succeed at such as drying dishes, wiping of the table, folding napkins. While the person is completing the task, emphasize how much you appreciate their help.

Reminisce: For people living with Alzheimer’s disease, long term episodic memories, events an experience that occurred long ago, may be less disrupted than short term memories. Reminiscing capitalizes on the relative strength of these long-term memories, and can involve props, photographs, videos. Studies have shown psychosocial benefits for individuals living with Dementia. You can use old holiday photos as way to start conversations. Allow your loved one to take the lead and recall stories from their past. Avoid correcting. Listen attentively, paraphrase and ask questions designed for success. Instead of asking if your loved one remembers the people in the picture, provide your loved one with essential information: “I see your sister, Molly, in this photo, did the two of you get along well?”

Tactile and scented cues can also heighten the experience and allow people of different abilities to participate. Perhaps, your loved one always made holiday cookies. Making the recipe from start to finish might be overly complex for your loved one, but they might be able to complete discrete tasks, such as rolling out the dough or shaping the dough into balls. People who don’t enjoy baking or are no longer able to complete the tactile tasks, might find it soothing to focus on seasonal scents. If it is safe to bring your loved one into the kitchen when you cook, consider making an old family recipe, or setting up a stovetop potpourri. If your loved one is less mobile, bring the scent to them! Consider adding drops of essential oils to cotton balls. For a budget friendly option, hold an open spice bottle near your loved one’s nose or provide your loved one with a hand massage using a scented lotion that you already own.

Plan Ahead: If you are planning to host or attend a large gathering, consider how your loved one might react. Perhaps, your loved one enjoys large gatherings, or perhaps they find them overwhelming. If the latter is the case, consider whether seating them off to the side or in a separate room would be helpful, or if it might be best for them not to attend. If your loved one might feel embarrassed by not knowing all the attendee’s names, consider purchasing name tags for guests. If your loved one is likely to say something inconsiderate or embarrassing, consider printing out a companion card, a small business-sized card that states that your loved one has dementia and requests that others be patient.

Appreciate Beauty: The holiday season presents opportunities to people of all faiths to and abilities to appreciate the beauty in the world that surrounds us. If your loved one is comfortable and safe being out at night, consider taking them to a winter light drive thru or drive them around town at night to see the lights around your neighborhood.

Learn from your loved one: People living with Dementia may lose their sense of time and space. Without a sense of future or past, the need to plan dissipates, and a person living with Dementia can exemplify what it means to live in the moment. 

Older adults
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Dementia Support Program


The RAFT Dementia Support Program aims to give individuals living with dementia, their family, and their caregivers the information and tools to live with dignity, respect, and meaning.


Anyone can make a referral to the program, using the online referral form.

Or contact Sydney Palinkas at or 703-814-2701. 


7611 Little River Turnpike
Suite 200
Annandale, VA 22003

Phone: 703-531-2144
TTY: 703-228-1788