Holiday Movie Ideas for Seniors with Dementia

December 21, 2018

The hectic pace of holiday activity is challenging for any of us; for those seniors dealing with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the end-of-year flurry of activity can be especially disconcerting. Adult children and caregivers have their own stress around this time too, searching for ways to include loved ones in holiday celebrations without adding to the confusion.

Although people with dementia have obvious memory and attention deficits, they often respond well to experiences that evoke happy long-term memories, like listening to old show tunes or looking through childhood photo albums. Watching a classic holiday movie can be a wonderful way to include Mom in the family gathering and engage her around something pleasant and soothing. Before picking some possible options, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Keep it short: Look for movies under 2 hours, if possible, or plan on only watching a certain amount at a time.
  • Keep it happy: Seniors with dementia can have issues distinguishing fantasy from reality. Stick to happy themes and avoid selections that involve violence, prolonged sadness, serious illness, frightening imagery, or death.
  • Keep it simple: Look for movies with straightforward plot lines; avoid those with confusing flash backs or time travel.

With that, here are some favorites we’ve come to recommend over the years, both through our own experience and our community families’ suggestions:

  • White Christmas: This 1954 classic starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney not only features one of the most beloved Christmas movie songs of all time, but also offers lots of great song and dance numbers and a simple plot. 120 minutes.
  • Miracle on 34th Street: Another crowd pleaser with a straightforward story evoking lots of happy memories! 96 minutes.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life: Although it’s on the long side (130 minutes) and does have some potentially confusing plot elements, It’s a Wonderful Life is such a timeless classic that it might be worth fast-forwarding through the tougher scenes to reminisce around the warmer, feel-good moments.
  • A Christmas Carol: Who doesn’t love A Christmas Carol? We like the 1938 version (69 minutes), but of course there are several to choose from – pick the one that would mean the most for Mom or Dad!
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s: Another Bing Crosby holiday classic, this one runs a little long (126 minutes) but has enough classic scenes and Christmas tunes that you could easy hop through it.

Do you have a favorite we missed? Tell us in comments!