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Celebrating Passover with Dementia

Use these tips to plan a dementia-friendly Passover or Easter celebration
Celebrating Passover with Dementia

The Easter and Passover holidays provide not only an opportunity to reconnect with our faith, but also a time to enjoy delicious meals and spend time with family and friends. For adults experiencing cognitive changes due to dementia, however, holidays can be stressful. Changes in routine are difficult for persons with dementia.  Care partners can become distracted by worrying about protecting their loved one’s everyday routines at events that are anything but routine. However, with thoughtful pre-planning and with the support of others, adults with dementia and their care partners can continue to find joy and meaning in the holidays. Here are some tips:

Preparing for the Holiday

  • Mark holidays on the calendar and countdown the days left.  Keep talking about the holiday as you get closer to the date.
  • Involve them in simple, reminiscent activities such as making Easter eggs, polishing and arranging the seder plate, etc.
  • Talk about holiday memories and share photos of family members who will be attending. Play or sing traditional seder songs beforehand to stimulate memories and help prepare them for what is to come.
  • If the person with dementia was routinely involved in cleaning the home, or preparing and cooking the holiday meal, plan to involve them in at least one of these tasks.
  • The day before the holiday, be sure to make it clear what is happening. For example, “Tomorrow we’re going to Jeff’s house for a seder.”

Taking Care of the Care Partners

  • Remember that care partners do not have to live up to the expectations of friends or relatives.
  • Rethink family traditions and pick and choose those most important to you.
  • If you are hosting the holiday, keep the invitation list small.
  • Let others help by bringing food items, and ask them to help with clean up.
  • If you are invited to a seder and plan to bring someone with dementia, communicate with the host well in advance about any specific needs.

Prepare Yours Guests in Advance

  • If you are hosting the holiday event, remind your guests that your loved one has dementia. They may not remember names, or what is said to them. Encourage guests to avoid correcting the person with dementia and to keep the conversation positive.
  • Guests should be aware how the meal will be tailored to the person with dementia’s needs.

Tailoring the Passover Seder

  • Avoid over-stimulation and over-tiring by eating earlier in the day, and steer clear of long travel.
  • Consider using a shortened haggadah. Have someone sit next to the person with dementia to help guide them through the haggadah.
  • Elders with dementia may have been responsible for leading a seder at one time. It is important to involve the person with dementia, however, it is important to choose the role carefully. For example, reading from the haggadah may be too stressful, but helping to hide the afikomen or opening the door for Elijah may be more enjoyable.
  • Remember that even the best laid plans can go awry. Make the most of each situation and use humor when dealing with dementia.

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Elaine Abrams, MPH, RN, CHES's picture

About the Blogger

Program Manager, Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care at Hebrew Senior Life until June 2015

Elaine Abrams, MPH, RN, CHES, has more than 25 years of nursing, public health, and health education experience. Her areas of expertise include community health assessment, program development and management, and health communications. A graduate of University of Connecticut Graduate Program in Public Health, Elaine has held several leadership roles including President-elect at the Connecticut Public Health Association, the state affiliate of the American Public Health Association, where she also served for several years on the Board of Directors. 

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