The holidays are a time when family and friends often come together. But for families living with Alzheimer's and other dementias, the holidays can be challenging. Take a deep breath. With some planning and adjusted expectations, your celebrations can still be happy, memorable occasions.
The holidays are full of emotions, so it can help to let guests know what to expect before they arrive.
- If the person is in the early stages, 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.
- If the person is in the middle or late stages, 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.
- You may find it easier to share changes in a letter or email that can be sent to multiple recipients. Click here for examples.
- Call a meeting to discuss upcoming plans. The stress of caregiving responsibilities layered with holiday traditions can take a toll. Invite family and friends to a face-to-face meeting, or if geography is an obstacle, set up a telephone conference call. Make sure everyone understands your caregiving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can do Be honest about any limitations or needs, such as keeping a daily routine.
- 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. Let others contribute. Have a potluck dinner or ask them to host at their home. You may want to consider breaking large gatherings up into smaller visits of two or three people at a time to keep the person with Alzheimer's and yourself from getting overtired.
- Do a variation on a theme. If evening confusion and agitation are a problem, consider changing a holiday dinner into a holiday lunch or brunch. If you do keep the celebration at night, keep the room well-lit and try to avoid any known triggers.
- 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.
- Involve the person in holiday preparation. As the abilities allow, invite him or her to help you 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.
- Encourage safe and useful gifts for the person with dementia. Diminishing capacity may make some gifts unusable or even dangerous to a person with dementia. If someone asks for gift ideas, suggest items the person with dementia needs or can easily enjoy. Ideas include: an identification bracelet, comfortable clothing, audiotapes of favorite music, videos and photo albums.
- Put respite care on your wish list. If friends or family ask what you want for a gift, suggest a gift certificate or something that will help you take care of yourself as you care for your loved one. This could be a cleaning or household chore service, an offer to provide respite care, or something that provides you with a bit of rest and relaxation.
When a Person Lives in a Care Facility
- 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