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Caring Through The Holidays
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Caring Through the Holidays

The holiday season is rapidly approaching. We tend to think this time of year is supposed to be a time of joy and happiness – family togetherness and gift giving.  Sometimes, however, if you are a caregiver for an aging parent or a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia the holidays can be a time of overwhelming stress. As caregivers, the holiday season may mean having to perform of all of your care giving duties, PLUS you feel the pressure to fulfill all the traditional holiday obligations. Caregivers often battle feelings of stress, guilt and anger, and those may increase with the holiday pressure. For both the caregiver and the person with Alzheimer’s disease the holidays can be reminders of “better times.”   We are here to help, you can contact us 24/7 at 800.272.3900.  

Adjust & Set Realistic Expectations

Things will be different. Alzheimer’s has entered your world and it does make some aspects of life different. The reality is that we can’t aim for perfection anymore. It is unrealistic from here on out. However, what we can do is be flexible, and when we need to, change our expectations to fit the situation. For example: a person with Alzheimer’s often cannot tolerate as much stimulation as they once could. A typical holiday setting with all of the hustle and bustle can be overwhelming. AND it can be overwhelming for YOU now too! Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. If you’ve always invited 15-20 people to your home, consider inviting five for a simple meal. Have a holiday lunch instead of a dinner. More suggestions include:

  • Timing is everything. Have events earlier in the day to avoid evening confusion.
  • Consider having a potluck or asking others to host the holiday at their home.
  • Plan time for breaks at holiday gatherings so your loved one can rest in a quiet area away from noise and crowds.
  • Plan to serve easy to eat finger foods and lower music levels.
  • Have a family meeting, conference or write a letter to friends and family that will be visiting or hosting over the holiday season. Discuss potential behaviors that the person may exhibit and how to address them.
  • Discus the holiday celebrations and traditions of years gone by and determine which of these to continue and what new traditions may be implemented.
  • Make sure that everyone understands your care giving situation and has realistic expectations about what you can and can’t do.
  • Here are gift ideas for an loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia.

Take Care of Yourself

You have the right to say no. It is not being selfish and you should not feel guilty. No one should expect you to maintain every holiday event or tradition but if they do you may need  to say no to some things.  And that is OK.

  • Find a de-stressing technique. For some people it is exercising, for some it’s reading a good book, for others it’s humor. It can be anything you enjoy doing that takes your mind of the stress for a little while. Understand that even a few minutes of this de-stressing can have great effect on your health and stress levels.
  • Maintain your health. If you don’t care for yourself you will not be able to care for anyone else. Don’t skip medications or medical appointments. Do your best to exercise and eat properly to help sustain your energy and try to avoid alcohol.
  • Put together a support network. Make a list of family, friends, community agencies and local emergency service providers.
  • Make a holiday “To-do” list or calendar. Figure out which activities you should do yourself and which ones you can delegate. Then get comfortable delegating!
  • Ask a friend or relative if they can provide specific help. For example, “Can you please take John to his doctor’s appointment on Friday?” or, “Can you come over and watch Mary for three hours next Saturday while I go shopping?”
  • Prepare for post-holiday letdown after your family members have gone back home.   Arrange for in home care so that you can enjoy a movie or lunch with a friend and reduce some of the post-holiday loneliness you may feel.

How the Person with Dementia Can Participate

  • Involve the person in safe, manageable holiday preparation activities. Begin slowly by asking the person to help you prepare easy foods such as washing the grapes or laying out crackers. The person may be able to help wrap packages by holding the tape or using their finger to help tie the bow. Maybe he can hand you decorations or set the table. (Avoid using candies, artificial fruits/vegetables or other edibles as decorations. Blinking lights may confuse or scare the person.) Again, change may need to occur, but it does not mean you should not decorate, nor let your loved one help. 
  • Maintain the person’s normal routine so that holiday preparations don’t become disruptive or confusing. Taking on too many tasks can wear on you and the person.
  • Build on past traditions and memories. Your family member may find comfort in singing old holiday songs, for example. But also experiment with new holiday traditions, such as renting seasonal videos. 
  • Focus on holiday activities that are meaningful to the person, such as signing favorite holiday songs, reading scripture, or eating traditional holiday foods; this may be more meaningful than attending a social event that may be overwhelming.
  • Ask a clergy member if they would hold a brief service at a quiet time at your place of worship or at your home.
  • Depending on his or her abilities, get the person involved in giving gifts. For example, someone who once enjoyed cooking may enjoy baking cookies and packing them in tins or boxes. Or, you may want to buy the gift and allow the person to wrap it.
  • Plan time for breaks so the person can rest in a quiet area away from noise and crowds.

If Your Loved One is in the Hospital/Facility Over the Holidays

  • If children are visiting, let the kids unwrap a few gifts by your loved one’s bedside so he or she can see the joy on their faces.
  • Decorate the room with holiday wreathes, garlands, strings of lights (Check with hospital staff before doing so).
  • Bring a photo album or scrapbook full of pictures from holidays past and reminisce with your loved one.
  • Gather family together for a holiday sing-along in your loved one’s room.
  • Listen to a recording of a religious service together.
  • Play your loved one’s favorite holiday music.
  • Create a sachet of fragrant dried balsam pine needles so your loved one can enjoy the Christmas tree smell.
  • Bring your loved one’s favorite holiday treat to enjoy together (diet permitting).
  • Watch a favorite holiday movie together, or, better yet, watch home videos of holidays passed.
  • Bring a few special ornaments for your loved one to hold and discuss the memories associated with each. Even if your loved one can’t be home to help decorate the tree, seeing and touching the ornaments can bring back wonderful memories.


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.