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Celebrating the Holidays with Alzheimer’s

Celebrating the Holidays with Alzheimer’s

Tips for making the holidays more enjoyable for families affected by Alzheimer’s

The holidays can be a magical time of the year to spend time together with loved ones.  When someone close to you is suffering from Alzheimer’s, taking on the additional stresses that come along with the holidays may seem overwhelming. The following tips can make this year’s festivities more enjoyable for everyone in your family. Our tips for celebrating the holidays with Alzheimer’s will help you avoid caregiver burnout, modify your traditions to be more inclusive, and prepare guests on what to expect. 

Avoid Caregiver Burnout:

Woman getting anxious thinking about the stress of celebrating the holidays with Alzheimer's.
Celebrating the holidays with Alzheimer’s can be a major headache, but it doesn’t have to be!

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a full time job. Add on the additional stress of shopping for gifts, decorating the house and entertaining, and you’ve got a recipe for caregiver burnout. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed trying to maintain holiday traditions while providing care, be honest with family and friends about what you are able to manage.  The holidays might not look exactly as they have in the past, and that’s ok! Consider making some of the following adjustments to reduce your stress this holiday season:

  • Ask for help: Don’t think you should be expected to do everything by yourself! If you are hosting this holiday season, forget about cooking a big meal. Instead, ask family and friends to bring their favorite holiday dishes. 
  • Finding that perfect gift for everyone on your list can be stressful and time consuming.  If you come from a big family like I do you should consider a secret gift exchange. Thankfully, my family has been practicing this tradition for decades so Instead of searching for 26 gifts, I only need to look for one. 
  • Make sure you take time each day to look after yourself. Caregivers are so used to putting the needs of others before their own that they often forget to take care of themselves. Something as simple as taking a walk can be an amazing stress reliever.

Modify Traditions:

A table set for an intimate meal to make the holidays with Alzheimer's more manageable.
An intimate gathering makes celebrating the holidays with Alzheimer’s more manageable.

The holidays and the traditions that go along with them can be extremely meaningful to people living with Alzheimer’s. However, the busy nature of the holidays might cause them to become stressed and withdrawn. Create a game plan to ensure that your itinerary is filled with activities that are enjoyable for everyone. When adjusting your holiday routine to make things easier on those with Alzheimer’s, consider the following ideas:

  • If you traditionally have a big crowd you may want to consider asking friends and family to stagger their visits. More intimate gatherings prevent large and overwhelming social situations.  
  • If you are going to be traveling over the holidays make sure there is a quiet space for your loved one to rest if they become tired or agitated.
  • When decorating for the holidays take special care to avoid decor that blocks walking paths or covers handrails. Substitute electric candles for open flames and keep breakables out of reach.
  • You might consider celebrating earlier in the day with brunch if your family member is suffering from confusion in the evening (sundowning).

Include the person with Alzheimer’s:

Woman decorates holiday cookies.
Decorating cookies is a simple task that you can do with your loved one.

It’s easy to get caught up in your to-do list during the holiday season and miss out on spending quality time with the people who matter most. Make a conscious effort to involve the person with Alzheimer’s as you prepare for the holidays. Alzheimer’s may prevent your loved one from participating in the holidays like they used to, but that doesn’t mean they need to sit on the sidelines. Consider the following tips to make your holiday celebrations more inclusive:

  • Spend time together getting in the holiday spirit by watching a classic holiday movie.
  • Encourage reminiscing by telling stories about your favorite holiday memories.
  • Include your loved one as much as possible in your daily activities as you get ready for the holidays. For example, if you’re baking holiday cookies, ask them to decorate.
  • Working on a creative project is a great activity for kids and people with Alzheimer’s to do together. My favorite holiday memory is the time my Grandma spent the day helping my cousins and me create festive decorations from inexpensive craft materials. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create lasting memories.

Prepare guests for celebrating the holidays with Alzheimer’s:

Guest rings doorbell to celebrate the holidays with Alzheimer's patient.
Help guests navigate the holiday’s with Alzheimer’s patients by talking with them ahead of time.

If you are having people over to visit during the holiday season you may want to give them a heads-up of what to expect. This gesture is especially useful for out of town guests who have not visited in a while and for friends that do not have a ton of experience with Alzheimer’s.

  • Consider writing a short text or email to let guests know about changes since their last visit. As people advance to the middle and later stages of Alzheimers, cognitive and behavioral changes become more pronounced. These changes can be shocking and difficult to handle if you are unprepared for them.
  • Remind guests to be patient when communicating and refrain from correcting mistakes and pointing out repeated anecdotes.
Eileen Donahue

Former home health aide passionate about aging in place.

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