Alzheimer’s Insight: Tips for the Holidays for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Published 4:59 pm Friday, December 24, 2021

Scott Finley

The holiday season is upon us!   Actually, if you’ve been out to any major big box store, the holiday season has pretty much been upon us since mid-July, and seems to creep back a bit more every year!

As family and friends gather to celebrate, symptoms of dementia with a loved one may become clear.  Memory loss may be more evident, anxiety sometimes increases in a crowd where there’s lots of noise and conversation, and unfamiliar surroundings may reveal challenges that don’t exist at home.

With that in mind, here are some ideas for dealing with stress during the holidays.

Adjust expectations: The holidays are full of emotions, so let guests know what to expect before they arrive and tell them how they can help. For example, what activities can they do with the person living with Alzheimer’s and how best to communicate with them. “Cross talk” or simultaneous conversations can be challenging for people living with Alzheimer’s – try engaging them one-on-one.

Build on traditions and memories: Take time to experiment with new traditions that might be less stressful or a better fit with your caregiving responsibilities. For example, if evening confusion and agitation are a problem, turn your holiday dinner into a holiday lunch.

Involve the person with Alzheimer’s: Involve the person in safe, manageable holiday preparation activities that he or she enjoys. Ask him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table. (Avoid using candies, artificial fruits and vegetables as decorations because a person with dementia might confuse them with real food. Blinking lights may also confuse the person.

Maintain a normal routine:  Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the holidays from becoming disruptive or confusing. Plan time for breaks and rest.

Make sure others know:  If the person is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, relatives and friends might not notice any changes. But the person with dementia may have trouble following conversation or tend to repeat him- or herself.  Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts.

Check in with the person living with dementia:  In the early stage, a person living with Alzheimer’s may experience minor changes. Some may withdraw and be less comfortable socializing while others may relish seeing family and friends as before. The key is to check in with each other and discuss options.

When the person lives in a care facility:  A holiday is still a holiday whether it is celebrated at home or at a care facility. Here are some ways to celebrate together:

Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities.

Bring a favorite holiday food to share.

Sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in.

Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud.

Finally:  Be good to yourself. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. If you’ve always invited 15 to 20 people to your home, consider paring it down to a few guests for a simple meal.

If you have questions, call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s®. For more information, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.

Scott Finley is Media Relations Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association® in Texas.  He can be reached at scfinley@alz.org