Heritage Living Center

Handling the Holidays with Alzheimer’s Disease

Holiday family meal

By Lisa M. Petsche

Many people consider the holiday season a hectic time, due to the preparations and festivities that typically take place. Staying sane, not to mention enjoying this special time of the year, is even more of a challenge when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of cognitive impairment.

If you are relatively new to this role, or your relative has changed significantly over the past year, you may be particularly anxious about the approaching holidays.

Follow these suggestions to help keep stress manageable for everyone in your household.

  1. Shop by mail order or buy gift cards.
  2. Use decorative bags and boxes to streamline wrapping.
  3. Keep presents stored away in a secure place until it’s time to exchange them.
  4. Be prepared when friends ask for suitable gift ideas for your relative. Suggestions should take into account any cognitive or physical limitations.
  1. Don’t decorate too far in advance.
  2. Keep decorations minimal and out of reach as much as possible. Don’t display anything that’s valuable or fragile.
  3. Avoid lights that flash or play music, as well as sound or motion-activated items.
  4. Don’t keep food out in the open—for example, a gingerbread house or dish of candy.
  5. Don’t let extension cords dangle or run across walkways.
  6. Steer clear of holiday decorations that could be harmful if ingested.
  1. Whenever possible, entertain at home rather than take your relative to an unfamiliar place.
  2. Prepare guests for your relative’s mental and physical functioning, general mood and any uncharacteristic behaviors.
  3. Enlist a friend to companion your relative while you’re engaged in hosting duties.
  4. Keep rooms well lit, since shadows may cause confusion and fear. Avoid candles.
  5. Keep music soft and familiar.
  6. Keep gatherings small. Otherwise, situate your relative in a quiet spot and have guests visit one or two at a time.
  7. Instruct guests to introduce themselves to your relative by name and relationship —1for example, “I’m Mary, your brother John’s wife.”
  8. Place guest coats and handbags in a secure area so your relative can’t rummage through them.
  9. Clean up immediately after entertaining, before your relative has a chance to consume anything that might make them ill.
  10. Before inviting overnight guests, consider how disruptive this may be to your relative’s routines.
  1. If you accept an invitation, do so on the condition that you may back out if your relative is having a bad day.
  2. Limit the time and ensure there’s a quiet place your relative can retreat to if they can’t handle the stimulation.
  3. Take along medications, adapted dishes and utensils, a bib, extra briefs and a change of clothing as needed.
  4. Accept that the person may not eat as well as they normally do, owing to anxiety or distractions. Be prepared with a healthy snack.
  5. Attend an event without your relative, if it’s not feasible to take them with you.
Further Tips
  1. Let family and friends know your needs and limitations.
  2. Keep holiday plans simple and don’t overload your relative with details.
  3. Include them in preparations to the best of their ability.
  4. Share holiday memories. Bring out photo albums or home movies and play favorite seasonal music.
  5. Schedule holiday activities during your relative’s best time of the day. Space them out and try to stick to routines.
  6. Have a plan in place to deal with challenging behaviors.
  7. Don’t pressure your relative to participate in festivities. Previously enjoyed events may cause distress if they don’t understand what’s going on or no longer recognize family and friends.
  8. Last, but not least, find something relaxing you can do each day. And do treat yourself to a special gift. MSN

Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and freelance writer specializing in elder care. She has personal experience with Alzheimer’s caregiving.

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