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Special occasions, like birthdays or holidays, are a joyful time. Sharing food and drink, gathering together and exchanging gifts are all part of the general festivities and fun.

When a person is living with dementia, however, these sorts of occasions can create stress, because they’re a break from their normal routine. They may also feel anxious about celebrating in an unfamiliar or crowded environment.

Here are some tips to make celebrating special occasions more enjoyable for everyone.

Do things together

Involve the person with dementia by asking them to help you get ready for the occasion. Let them help with small things like cooking or simple tasks. This can make them feel good. If they get worried or confused, switch to another task. During the celebration, involve them by incorporating simple games or playing music so they stay active.

Consider the environment

Decorations for celebrations can be confusing to a person living with dementia. They might think they can eat something that's just a decoration, or the decorations might simply bother them. You may need to change the space to make it easier for them.

Share responsibilities

Ask family and friends to help you take care of the person living with dementia during the special day. Perhaps friends could host the day at their house. Or you could all go out together to the event. Another option is to ask someone to sit and talk quietly with the person with dementia if they need a break from all the noise.

Stick to a routine

Changes to the person’s usual day can feel confusing. Try to keep things like their normal routine—especially around mealtimes or the things they do each day—the same as usual. This might help them feel less stressed or insecure.

Schedule rest and quiet times

Don’t try to do too much during the special day. Sometimes, trying to keep up with tradition can make things harder for you and the person with dementia. Plan for some quiet and relaxing moments. Having a rest is important.

Think about gifts

If the person with dementia enjoys it, do things together like baking a cake, wrapping presents or making cards. You could also help family and friends by suggesting gift ideas.

Share memories

Special occasions can remind us of happy memories. Take time to talk about and listen to past stories, play songs everyone loves or watch favourite movies together. These things can make the day special for everyone.

Seek emotional support

Special occasions can sometimes make us feel a bit sad or lonely. If you or the person living with dementia feel this way, that’s completely okay. Talking to someone about how you feel can help.

It’s okay to take care of your own health and happiness. If you're struggling as someone who cares for a person with dementia, contact the free, confidential National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, any time of the day or night, for information, advice and support.

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Last updated
2 February 2024