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Advice for Christmas visits when your loved one has dementia

Dementia advice

Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year

A precious time to be with family and friends, however for people living with dementia, little and often could be the way to happiness according to a Care UK expert.

Suzanne Mumford, a dementia expert at Care UK, says high expectations and an over-whelming sense of duty can end up making the whole family sad and stressed at Christmas.

She says: “People feel they have to visit their relative, whether in their home or in their care home, for the whole of Christmas Day. Alternatively, they may bring their loved one to their own home, away from a care home environment where they feel safe and comfortable." 

Its also important to remember that the pandemic has had a dramatic effect on care home visiting and homes may still have restricted visiting based on local infection rates and the outbreak status of the home, making it more important to plan visits and outings. Find out more about our response to coronavirus.


I would urge people to think whether taking their loved one from their care home is always the right thing to do.

Suzanne MumfordCare UK's dementia expert

“Christmas is a stressful time: people with dementia are ‘hard wired’ to their own, and the emotions of others particularly those closest to them, this can make them increasingly agitated. They may also become bored and distracted, or simply overwhelmed in a noisy busy setting.”

Suzanne’s tips to prepare for the festive season:

  1. Preparation: Before Christmas drop in to your relative for short and purposeful activities. For example, help them to write their Christmas cards or take a pen and paper and talk to them about who they need to buy presents for, and what they might like to buy.
  2. Christmas shopping: Arrange a date to take them shopping. Try to organise a time when shops are likely to be quieter and where there are a variety of gifts so that the trip can be limited. Garden centres are often good for this as they often have cafés and easy access facilities. Don’t expect to get everything done, it’s about the experience rather than the outcome. Online shopping can also be a useful way of shopping together.
  3. Sending Christmas cards: Why not help them sign their cards and take a walk to the post box together. These simple things help people feel engaged with Christmas. It gives them a sense of achievement and it sets the scene for the coming weeks, reminding them of who everyone is and their connection to each of them. Dementia can play tricks with people’s time frames, so it also helps them to count down to the big day.

The big day

Suzanne advises that people manage their expectations and guilt on Christmas Day. She said: “I would urge people to think whether taking their loved one from their care home is always the right thing to do. That’s not to say don’t, but to recognise that Christmas at home can often be noisy and stressful, shorter visits often work well, remembering that what is good for one person is not necessarily good for another, everyone is uniquely different”.

Care UK care homes have lots of planned activities, especially over the festive season. Your loved one will feel safe in a familiar environment with their friends. If they feel tired or not so well there are experts on hand to help them get some quiet time in their room whenever they fancy.

Contrast that with being in a family home they may not know anymore with lots of noise, movement, and excited children. They may struggle to hear the conversations or understand what is being said, depending on where they are in their dementia journey, and how often they see their relatives. Sadly there is also an increased risk of contracting COVID when in a multigenerational group.


They can become tired, confused, and frustrated and what was meant to be the ‘perfect visit’ becomes an uphill struggle for all.

Instead, Suzanne suggests that, on the big day, you visit your loved one for a visit to chat, exchange presents, and talk about the day ahead. She then suggests following-up with a phone call, so that your loved one knows that they are very much in your thoughts, and they can share news from the day.

If you aren’t sure whether your loved one would prefer to visit your home or stay at their care home, try to talk to them, and their care team about what the best option would be.

Read more expert advice for celebrating the festive season with a loved one with dementia 


There are endless activities that you can try with your loved one, and our free As easy as ABC guide is complete with 100 ideas for maintaining hobbies and interests as a loved one ages.

For someone living with dementia, Christmas can be a time for reminiscing. Recreate activities and traditions they took part in throughout their life, play traditional games, or try creating your own Christmas decorations like garlands or tinsel.

Spark a conversation by gifting your loved one something nostalgic, such as a traditional game, a favourite album or film, or a framed photo from their childhood.

Our Let’s talk about dementia guide is packed with expert advice, real-life scenarios and 21 things that every family carer should know.

Explore advice for understanding and interacting with someone living with dementia with our guide, Let’s talk about dementia, and you can help your loved one to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

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