Navigating the Holidays as an Alzheimer's Family

Holidays are a time when we see many family members and friends that we have not gotten together with in a year or even more. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or Dementia during these times can be stressful and challenging.

We're sharing with you some helpful tips and things you could expect from our friends at the Alzheimer's Association so that you can have a happy and memorable holiday celebration. 

Early Stages of Alzheimer's

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 themselves.  Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts.

Middle to Late Stages of Alzheimer's

If the person is in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer's, there may be significant changes in cognitive abilities since the last time an out-of-town friend or relative has visited.  These changes can be hard to accept. Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person.  

Sharing some of the changes before hand with those that will be visiting ma be helpful, either by phone or email.  You can try something like:

You may find this easier to share changes in a letter or email that can be sent to multiple recipients. Here are some examples:

  •  "While we're looking forward to your visit, we thought it might be helpful if you understood our current situation before you arrive."
  • "You may notice that ___ has changed since you last saw him/her. Among the changes you may notice are ___."
  • "Because ___ sometimes has problems remembering and thinking clearly, his/her behavior is a little unpredictable."
  • "Please understand that ___ may not remember who you are and may confuse you with someone else. Please don't feel offended by this. He/she appreciates your being with us and so do I."

Involve Your Loved One with Alzheimer's

Build on past traditions and memories. Focus on activities that are meaningful to the person with dementia. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs or looking through old photo albums. These are reminiscing activities and are very common with and enjoyable for those with dementia.

Involve the person in holiday preparation. As the person's abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or hand decorations to you as you put them up. *** (Be careful with decoration choices. Blinking lights may confuse or scare a person with dementia, and decorations that look like food could be mistaken as edible.) 

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.

When Your Loved One Lives in a Care Facility

The holidays are still very important whether your loved one will be celebrating at home or in a care facility. Most care facilities have a multitude of holiday activities for residents and welcome family and friends to join. 

  • Consider joining your loved one in any facility-planned holiday activities
  • Bring a favorite holiday food to share
  • There are usually fun craft programs and bingo games, look into attending one
  • Sing holiday songs and ask if other residents can join in
  • Read a favorite holiday story or poem out loud

For additional information on navigating through the holidays for families with Alzheimer's or Dementia, head to the Alzheimer's Association.  They have added information on Adjusting expectations and Adapting gift giving.