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  • Writer's pictureBy April Sage

Holiday Empathy 101: Understanding Your Loved Ones’ Needs This Holiday Season

Updated: Jan 24


Smiling family with three generations at the table with a Turkey in the center a young woman is holding up two fingers in the piece sign

The holidays are a festive time to gather with people we love, catch up on hugs, and indulge in endless laughs. This is a busy season for many with the preparations, cooking, organizing, and overstimulation of catching up with friends and family. We’ve all craved a nap or a quiet break the day after the big festivities. For as exhausting as these events are for us, imagine the stress of the holidays for someone with cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s/Dementia, brain trauma, or a debilitating disease. The stimulation of the holidays can pose difficulties for those living with these life challenges. I’ve prepared a set of insightful suggestions to help families demonstrate empathy for their loved ones and ensure a successful holiday season.

  • Keep with routine. Consider what time you serve and end the meal or festivities. If it’s too late in the evening or far outside their routine, you could run into sundowners. Keeping routines is crucial for loved ones with disabilities. Try an early dinner to accommodate their schedule. It will set them up for success today and into the next day.

  • Create a quiet space. A power nap might be the perfect opportunity to recharge. Providing a cozy, safe, and quiet place for them to rest, reset, and work through an episode of anxiety might allow them to recharge. Being prepared for all scenarios can set the day up for success.

  • Encourage participation. Including your loved one in small tasks such as meal prep, setting the table, or contributing to domestic activities helps them feel needed and valuable. It will likely make their month to participate instead of only watching.

  • Offer options. Give them the opportunity to make their own decisions such as offering them white meat, dark meat, potatoes with or without gravy? If they haven’t preferred gravy in the past, but request gravy today, there is no need to dispute it. Tastes change, habits change, and that's ok. Give them the gravy. Today is about going with the flow! If you think of it before the big day, ask them to pick a favorite dish they'd like to have. It would make them happy to share a preference or opinion.

  • Go with the flow. Today is about making it fun. Never remind them of what they don’t like or what they don’t prefer. They may not remember their past preferences and this discouragement will only make them feel bad. It’s scary and hard enough not remembering their own memories. Let’s support them and bring positive encouragement to the day. It will make the day more manageable for everyone.


The day’s preparations and execution are long, but the memories are short. Take a moment, or even designate someone to take photos throughout the day. This is a great job for a teenager. It will give more people a sense of purpose and it will capture moments throughout the day. Your future self will thank you. You won't regret it!

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