Aging Parents, Dementia And Holidays: Three Important Tips

Just about everyone feels the stress about holidays and particularly family gatherings. Maybe it’s about some difficult relationships in your family. Perhaps it’s the host or hostess feeling the pressure to get everything ready for visitors. For many people, travel itself is stressful. For the family elder it may be much more than what gets to everybody else. It could be that with age-related changes, accommodations must be made for your aging loved ones.

Elders can be overwhelmed and say nothing

When an aging person, with or without brain changes of dementia, is exposed to a large group, lots of noise and commotion, it can feel overwhelming. Coping abilities can decline as people age. Forgetting names or events, losing track of the conversations, and dealing with that by acting out are all common for an elder. Sometimes they grow completely quiet and withdrawn. Sometimes cranky behavior or getting angry is what you see. These are signals that it’s too much right now.

Here are suggestions from us at, where we give advice about aging parents on a daily basis:

  1. For any elder in your family with memory loss, whether you consider it “normal” or not, limit the time your aging parent is with the group of folks who have gathered for the holiday. Maybe it’s loud and that affects the elder too much or they’re just over stimulated. You can suggest going out of the room for something quiet or perhaps they can take a nap for awhile. This can keep a lid on the feelings of overwhelm your aging parent may not articulate.
  2. Your aging loved ones want to be with others, but may not recognize their own limitations. If they offer to help with any chores, and you want them to be involved, keep it simple. Don’t ask your aging parent to do the heavy cooking or managing of the meals even if they were perfectly capable in the past. Aging can change us in unpredictable ways. Coordinate with others to see that things are done in an efficient way, not depending on a person who could find it difficult to help.
  3. Watch for signs of distress in your loved one. When you notice a worried look, a sense of discomfort you pick up, acting out angrily, or withdrawing completely, these can be signs that it’s all a bit too much for your aging parent to handle at the moment. Reach out and ask quietly if she or he needs a break from the excitement for a little bit. Doing this in a low key, respectful way allows your aging parent to opt out for awhile if he or she chooses. It may come as a relief.

In all, holiday gatherings can be fun and stressful all at the same time. For those of us who are not feeling those age-related limitations, it may all be fine. We may be totally unaware of how hard it may be for an elder with limitations in thinking, remembering and concentration to keep up. One thing we can do is raise our own understanding that the capacity of an aging person, particularly one with obvious memory loss, is not the same as every other person’s capacity. Having a good time in a group of family and friends may not be as easy as we want it to be for them. With some care and the right attention, you can make it smoother for all.