Holiday meals

Holiday meals can be very stressful for caregivers for persons with dementia. Here are some tips to keep the meals pleasant.

  1. Tell your guests about the dementia diagnosis ahead of time. It can be very confusing for all if the diagnosis is kept as a secret.
  2. Consider the timing of the main meal. If your family member with dementia typically is anxious or agitated in the afternoon or evening, consider having a brunch for your holiday meal.
  3. Recruit family members to help. For example, if your family member typically carves the turkey, but now you feel nervous about this, ask a grandson or daughter to take “Dad” in another room to read a book, watch a football game, or look at family photos. Identify this helper ahead of time and coach him or her carefully.
  4. At the table, put your family member with dementia between two people he or she knows well. This will make him or her feel more comfortable.
  5. Avoid skipping meals. For example, don’t skip lunch in anticipation of a large evening meal. Stay on your familiar schedule. If you are too busy to think about lunch, have another family member take your care-recipient out for a slice of pizza, or sit with him while he eats a peanut butter sandwich.
  6. Avoid large amounts of alcohol. Your family member may like a glass of sparkling cider as much as a glass of wine, and he or she will be able to stay engaged with the event longer.
  7. Ask your family member to lead the family in the traditional prayer, song, or story. This communicates to him or her that she is valuable to the family.
  8. Plan to take the next day “off” so both of you can recover.

Again, don’t hesitate to ask others for help. This gives others an opportunity to support you during the holidays and this can be very gratifying for them. They will also learn about your care-recipient and hopefully, can be more engaged in future events. This also teaches younger family members about the value of respecting elders and can give them a sense of accomplishment. Make sure to tell them how much you appreciate their help at the end of the event, or write them a note later.

For more help, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website: or call their helpline: 1-800-272-3900.

Allison Lindauer, PhD, NP, Assistant Professor; Director, Outreach, Recruitment & Education, Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, OHSU.