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Celebrating the Holidays with Alzheimer’s
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Mixing party time and dementia makes for an interesting brew. People can often become distracted from the spirit of celebration by worrying about reducing a loved one’s anxiety, or protecting everyday routines at events that are anything but routine. This all takes some thinking and planning.
It is worth noting that the holidays celebrate getting through hard times together and prompt us to be compassionate. Thanksgiving reminds us to share gratefully the everyday good things. In winter, holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah bring families together in the spirit of giving and human warmth. New Year’s celebrates letting go of the past to make a better future.

Dementia care relates to this spirit: looking after one another in difficult times, because this honors the best in us. The magic lies in having some fun while we’re at it!

Many families choose to continue long-standing traditions that reassure them family life is larger than dementia. Loved ones with Alzheimer’s may be comforted by familiar patterns and find delight in the vitality of the young. On the other hand, others plan around needs of the person with dementia in order to reduce the risk of frustration and blame.

Here are a few tried and true stress-busters to help temper holiday stress:

  • Consider passing on hosting responsibilities and enjoy the hospitality of friends or family
  • Avoid over-stimulation and over-tiring by eating earlier in the day, and steer clear of long travel
  • Use the buddy system and assign someone familiar to the individual with dementia to shield them from distress and give a break to the primary caregiver
  • Visit the Alzheimer’s Association for more tips for handling holiday challenges at

Gift-Giving Tips For People With Dementia

Early Stage: Individuals may be aware of their problems. Choose gifts that will enhance independence and activity.

  • Tickets to a concert, musical or sporting event
  • A fruit basket, frozen meals or other meals that are healthful but easy to prepare
  • Photo albums or a collage of old family photos

Middle Stage: Since more assistance is needed and the attention span in the individual is shorter, try gifts that focus on organization and the familiar.

  • Gifts that involve sorting and arranging or cutting
  • Picture books featuring celebrities, historical places and nature
  • Taped religious services and music from church services

Late Stage: Capacity to deal with anything complicated is diminished in the later stage, so choose gifts that keep in mind that comprehension and understanding is poor.

  • Memory books or boxes made up of old photos and mementos
  • Visits from well-behaved animals
  • Lap robes, shawls and warm footwear to keep warm with poor circulation
  • Stuffed animals, dolls, or pillows to bring a sense of comfort 
  • Hand and body lotion along with a massage

Lastly, be reminded that the holidays are a rest point between past struggles and an uncertain future. Enjoy the moment!

A Guide to Holiday Travel

The holidays often involve travel, whether near or far, by road or plane. Here is a check list to ensure that holiday travel is as safe and comfortable as possible.

  • Avoid rushed schedules that heighten anxiety. 
  • Minimize stops and long layovers in air travel.
  • Go at a time of day when your loved one is more alert and able to cope with changes.
  • Rely on familiar destinations, companions and modes of travel.
  • Carry identification and consider a Medic Alert/Safe Return bracelet. 
  • Use the buddy system and invite an extra travel companion to help out.
  • Enlist the help of staff in planes and hotels. An Alzheimer’s Association Courtesy Card* often gets quick cooperation and may insert you to the head of a long line!
  • Have a contingency plan in the event that travel becomes just too stressful. 
  • Buy flexible travel insurance.
  • Call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 for assistance and resources at your destination. For example, a person who attends a day center may be accommodated temporarily at one elsewhere. 

And lastly, remember the Powell Doctrine! General Colin Powell’s famous Gulf War strategy provides whimsical guidance for holiday travel: have a clear, attainable objective; weigh the risks and costs; have plenty of “troops;” get support of the allies; and devise a clean exit strategy!

*Courtesy Cards state: "My companion has
Alzheimer’s. Your understanding is appreciated."


Alzheimer's Association

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