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Tips for the Holidays

The holidays can be tough with any family, but for caregivers of people with dementia, they can be especially difficult. The NYC Chapter can help! Here are some tips for caregivers to help things run more smoothly so you and your family are able to enjoy the holidays:

  1. Adjust your expectations of yourself, the caregiver. Only agree to take on what you can reasonably manage, and ask for help. Holidays often come with traditions and expectations from family members, but try to ask for people to be flexible. Perhaps you can ask someone else to host the holiday gathering this year.
  2. Let family and friends know what to expect if they haven’t seen the person with dementia in a few months or a year.
  3. If a holiday gathering is large, assign a friend or relative (or two) to be a "buddy" to the person with dementia.  The buddies can take turns guiding the person with dementia through what is expected at the gathering and making sure the person with dementia's needs are being met. 
  4. Try to schedule only one activity or outing a day and allow the person to rest either before or after the event. If you have an especially busy day, plan for the next day to be one of rest and relaxation for both the person with dementia and you. 
  5. Involve the person with the diagnosis in tasks that they can succeed in. Maybe he or she can no longer prepare the entire meal, but perhaps the person can rinse the vegetables, set the table or clean silverware and still feel included in the preparation.
  6. Take time for yourself. If you have a holiday tradition that is important to you, such as attending the Nutcracker with your grandchildren, arrange for home care, so you can continue to do this tradition and have time for yourself.
  7. Finger foods are great for everyone, especially persons with dementia. Have snacks on hand for the person with dementia, even if a big dinner is being planned, so he or she does not have to wait a long time for dinner to be ready.
  8. Consider having a holiday-themed, structured activity prepared that the person with dementia can do with children or other adults (stringing popcorn, painting holiday decorations, making a collage) so that the person does not have to rely on making conversation. 
  9. During a holiday get together, it can be helpful for the person with dementia if everyone wears a name tag.  This way there is no pressure for the person to remember everyone’s names.  Make them colorful and fun so everyone wants to wear them!
  10. Since the person with dementia’s memory and conversation skills could be limited, try not to ask too many questions of him or her, especially those that begin with, “Do you remember…?”
  11. When conversing with the person with dementia, discuss what is going on in the room in that moment or make statements such as “It is so nice to see you”; “I like what you are wearing”; “Can I get you something to eat?”
  12. Ask family members to bring old photo albums that the person with dementia might like to look through. Tell him or her who is in the pictures.
  13. Create a quiet space that the person with dementia can retreat to if the gathering becomes over stimulating.
  14. If you are the caregiver and the host, consider making the get together potluck so that you are not pressured to do it all.
  15. It is common to experience more sadness, loss and feeling alone at this time of year. Attending a support group or seeing a counselor can be very helpful. Call the 24-hour Helpline at 800-272-3900 to find out more about these resources or if you need help. We are here 24/7, 365 days a year, even on holidays.


Winter Tips

As the temperature finally dips into seasonal ranges for winter, those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia should all be on notice that snow, extreme temperatures and early darkness present special problems.

A person with Alzheimer’s won’t necessarily dress appropriately for colder weather. Cover as much exposed skin as possible and provide several layers of lightweight clothing for easy movement, especially if plans include time outside.  A hat is important since so much body heat escapes from an uncovered head and don’t forget to add a scarf to cover up an exposed neck.  Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves and may be easier to help get on and off. Clips designed for skiers can help keep track of gloves or mittens that are otherwise easily misplaced or lost.

Sundowning is a term that refers to increased anxiety, confusion and even increased sleepiness due to the decreased sunlight in the winter months. Visual perception is already an issue for many people with Alzheimer’s and can cause increased confusion or disorientation in dark or shadowy environments both inside and out. Turn lights on earlier, open curtains during daylight hours and add bulbs that simulate sunlight. Install motion detector lights to help illuminate walkways around the home as darkness may fall before arriving home from an outing. Dressing in light or bright colors or adding reflective material to clothing will help a loved one be more easily seen.

To avoid slips and falls, make sure boots are non-skid. There are many boot styles on the market that use Velcro instead of laces to allow the person with dementia some success with dressing him or herself. Try separate “tracks” that attach to the soles for added traction on icy surfaces. You can also add a sharp tip to canes for that extra grip on winter days. This device is available at home health care stores.

Assume ALL surfaces are slick and by taking smaller steps and slowing down, the person with Alzheimer’s can match gait and speed to a safer level.

  • Perception problems can make it difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s to see ice on the sidewalk or realize that ice is slippery or that snow is not a solid surface.
  • Keep sidewalks and driveways clear of ice and snow to make walking outside safe for everyone, but do not overuse ice melt products which can reduce traction.
  • Use indoor or garage parking whenever possible.
  • Especially on stairs or slick spots, insist on handrail use and walk arm in arm when possible.
  • Acquire and use a State issued Handicapped placard enabling closer access to the door of buildings.
  • Medic Alert® + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return® offers safety for wandering. Wandering is one of the most frequent and challenging problems that caregivers face. All persons with dementia are at risk of wandering and becoming lost during the course of the disease, and most of those who wander will do so repeatedly.

Wandering may be triggered when a person with Alzheimer's disease:

  • Tries to search for familiar objects, surroundings or people when they no longer recognize their environment.
  •  Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work or taking care of a child.
  •  Reacts to the side effects of medication that cause restlessness and confusion.
  •  Tries to escape stress caused by noise, crowds or isolation.
  •  Is not getting enough physical activity.
  •  Is fearful of unfamiliar sights, sounds or hallucinations.
  •  Searches for something specific such as food, drink, the bathroom or companionship.

Never assume that being at home with someone who has Alzheimer’s makes wandering less of an issue. It only takes a moment for someone to leave the house, and the confusion and disorientation that accompany the disease means a friend or family member can get hopelessly lost in a matter of minutes. Having some type of tracking device can provide peace of mind that a loved one could be located within a short period of time after becoming separated. Enrolling in MedicAlert + Safe Return can protect people diagnosed with dementia in case of a medical emergency or a wandering incident.  

To learn more about MedicAlert + Safe Return, and to enroll, click here.  And you can always reach us around the clock by calling our 24-hour Helpline at 800-272-3900.


Spring Tips

Regardless of the time of year, it can be a challenge to come up with meaningful activities to do with a person with dementia. With spring finally here, now is a great time to begin to explore the outdoors and take advantage of the warmer weather.  When choosing activities, try to identify things the person you are caring for has historically enjoyed, while focusing on his or her abilities and modifying the activity based on the disease stage of the person.

  • Work in the garden together or repot plants
  • Grab an ice cream cone
  • Toss a ball in the yard or park
  • Play with pets or visit a zoo or botanical garden
  • String Cheerios® to hang outside for birds
  • Have an afternoon tea party outside
  • Feed the ducks
  • And just because it’s spring doesn’t mean you have to go outside.  Activities can be relatively simple indoors as well. Consider:
  • Do some spring cleaning together
  • Dance!
  • Make homemade lemonade
  • Look at family photographs
  • Make a scrapbook
  • Work on a puzzle together

It may be helpful to try and have activities ready in different rooms of the home, so there is never a shortage of engaging ways to spend time together.


Alzheimer's Association

Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's
Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research.