holiday dinner

Alzheimer's Families and the Holidays

While holiday celebrations are often joyous occasions, they can be challenging and stressful for the millions of families living with Alzheimer’s. Families and friends may be unsure of how to involve their loved one with Alzheimer’s in activities without overwhelming them (or others). The Alzheimer’s Association tells families that with some planning and adjusted expectations, the holidays can still be happy and memorable for everyone.

Here are some tips from the association:

Make sure others know

Let guests know what to expect before they arrive and tell them how they can help. For example, what activities can they do with the person with Alzheimer’s or how best to communicate with them.

If the person is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, relatives and friends might not notice any changes. But the person with dementia may have trouble following conversation or tend to repeat him- or herself.  Family can help with communication by being patient, not interrupting or correcting, and giving the person time to finish his or her thoughts.

If the person is in the middle or late stages of Alzheimer’s, there may be significant changes in cognitive abilities since the last time an out-of-town friend or relative has visited.  These changes can be hard to accept. Make sure visitors understand that changes in behavior and memory are caused by the disease and not the person.

You may find this easier to share changes in a letter or email that can be sent to multiple recipients. Here are some examples:

“I’m writing to let you know how things are going at our house. While we’re looking forward to your visit and we thought it might be helpful if you understood our current situation before you arrive.

“You may notice that ___ has changed since you last saw him/her. Among the changes you may notice are ___.

Because ___ sometimes has problems remembering and thinking clearly, his/her behavior is a little unpredictable.

Please understand that ___ may not remember who you are and may confuse you with someone else. Please don’t feel offended by this. He/she appreciates your being with us and so do I.”

Build on traditions and memories

Take time to experiment with new traditions that might be less stressful or a better fit with your caregiving responsibilities. For example, if evening confusion and agitation are a problem, turn your holiday dinner into a holiday lunch.

As the person’s abilities allow, invite him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table. This could be as simple as having the person measure an ingredient or hand decorations to you as you put them up. (Be careful with decoration choices. Blinking lights may confuse or scare a person with dementia, and decorations that look like food could be mistaken as edible.)

Maintain a normal routine

Sticking to the person’s normal routine will help keep the holidays from becoming disruptive or confusing. Plan time for breaks and rest.