Ten Fun Holiday Activities You Can Do With Family Members Who Have Dementia


The holiday season has a way of reminding us all how important it is to spend time with family. If you have a parent, grandparent, or other family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the holidays can still be a fun, joyous, safe and love-filled time for everyone. There are many great activities that you can do with your loved one, your children, or grandchildren, to ring in the holidays together and create new, multi-generational traditions. Here is just a short list of ten holiday-themed ideas that, with a few adjustments, can be great activities for your loved one with dementia:

  1. Baking holiday cookies

Make a simple sugar cookie dough (or purchase pre-made dough which tends to be less sticky.) Roll it out on parchment paper. (Avoid tin foil, as the dough tends to stick to it, which can be frustrating for people with low dexterity.) Your loved one and your children can cut out the dough using holiday-themed cookie cutters. Make sure you are the one who turns on the oven and takes the cookies in and out. After the tasty cookies come out, decorate them to your heart’s delight with frosting and sprinkles, and other toppings. If you have less time together, most grocery stores sell plain, unfrosted gingerbread men and sugar cookies that are ready for you to decorate and eat. Don’t be surprised if some cookies get eaten in the decorating process!

  1. Making a gingerbread house

Go ahead and set up the basic structure of the gingerbread house for your loved one. Once the walls are up and the roof is on, let your loved one loose to frost and add gum drop windows, peppermint shingles, and more. We recommend only using butter knives for this project.

  1. Crafting paper chain decorations

It’s time to decorate your home or your loved one’s room for the holidays. Buy lots of sheets of red, green, and white construction paper along with kid-friendly scissors. (Avoid giving your loved one sharp scissors). You can either pre-cut the paper into strips on your own or invite your loved one to try. Using glue sticks (not a stapler or hot glue gun), glue the strips of paper into inter-connecting loops to make long, colorful chains. Drape them around the staircase bannister for a great effect. To stir up some friendly completion, you might want to divide in teams and see which group of family members can make the longest paper chain.

  1. Looking at holiday lights

One of our most popular activities at Sunshine Care is to take our residents down to Christmas Card Lane to look at the dazzling light displays. Since we are on the road, we make sure all of our residents go to the bathroom before we leave. During the ride through the park, we hand out small cups of hot chocolate (warm not scalding) and play Christmas carols. Our residents love it. Likely, you can find a Christmas Card Lane near you, or you can simply drive through your local neighborhoods.

  1. Spinning dreidels

The holidays aren’t just about Christmas. Many Americans celebrate Chanukah. Even if you aren’t Jewish, it can still be interesting to learn other fun holiday traditions, including playing the dreidel game. At Sunshine Care, we bring in large-sized dreidels, and our residents have great fun spinning them and winning chocolates coins called gelt.

  1. Singing Christmas carols and holiday songs

Planning an activity with your loved one doesn’t need to require a lot of time or accessories. The most important ingredient is you! A great and simple activity is to sing Christmas carols with your loved one. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, you can still sing many famous holiday songs, like “Let It Snow.” Since older memories last longer in individuals with dementia, pick classic songs that your loved one sang in his or her childhood.

  1. Making homemade wrapping paper

You’ll need to take a trip to the store for this one, or jump online to order rubber Christmas stamps and ink. Next, lay out plain white computer paper or white wrapping paper and then stamp away! Your loved ones will be thrilled to see homemade paper on the presents under the tree.

  1. Making tied fleece blanket gifts

We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s better to give than to receive.” (Maybe your loved one is the person who said it to you for the first time!) Seniors with dementia often no longer get to experience the joy of being a gift giver, which is why this activity can be so gratifying. Making a tied fleece blanket is very simple, and the result is a great gift for grandkids or great-grandkids. You’ll just need to buy fleece in fun or warm patterns from the craft store. You can review this useful article or this helpful video to learn how to make the blankets (you don’t need all the extra measuring accessories in the video). Fabric cutting requires sharp scissors so we recommend you make the fringe cuts needed and then teach the   tying technique to your loved one.

  1. Decorating the Christmas tree

Set out your cookies, put on the carols, and get the fire going in the fireplace. It’s time to decorate the Christmas tree. Your loved one will enjoy this fondly remembered tradition. Make sure you put the lights on the tree yourself. Consider purchasing plastic ornaments for your loved one to use rather than delicate glass ones. Another option is to put your loved one in charge of hanging the candy canes or wrapping the garland. If possible, purchase a smaller tree so your loved one doesn’t have to reach to put a decoration on a high branch. This might not be an appropriate activity for someone with visual impairments or balance issues.

  1. Watching an old holiday movie

Individuals with dementia don’t always do well sitting through full-length movies, but we’ve observed that they often enjoy movies that they remember from childhood or that they’ve seen many times, such as It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street. This is a great option to do with the whole family, especially if the youngest members of your clan have never seen these movies before. Don’t forget the homemade popcorn, which is a great sensory experience for folks with dementia.

For even more activity ideas (including non-holiday activities), view Sunshine Care’s busy events calendar.


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