The holidays are often filled with opportunities for togetherness, sharing, laughter and meaningful moments. But they can also bring stress, disappointment and sadness. A person with Alzheimer’s may feel a special sense of loss during the holidays because of the changes he or she has experienced. At the same time, caregivers may feel overwhelmed maintaining traditions while providing care.
In the mild (early) stage, a person with Alzheimer’s may experience minor changes. Some may withdraw and be less comfortable socializing, while others may relish seeing family and friends as before. The key is to check in with each other and discuss options. A simple “How are you doing?” or “How are you coping with everything?” may be appreciated. Plan the holidays together, focusing on the things that bring happiness and letting go of activities that seem overwhelming or stressful.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers that may help make the holidays easier and happier occasions for everyone:
- Make sure others know. The holidays are full of emotions, so 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 living with Alzheimer’s and how best to communicate with them. “Cross talk” or simultaneous conversations can be challenging for people living with Alzheimer’s – try engaging them one-on-one.
- 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, such as watching seasonal movies. For example, if evening confusion and agitation are a problem, turn your holiday dinner into a holiday lunch.
- Involve the person with Alzheimer’s. Involve the person in safe, manageable holiday preparation activities that he or she enjoys. Ask him or her to help you prepare food, wrap packages, help decorate or set the table. (Avoid using candies, artificial fruits and vegetables as decorations because a person with dementia might confuse them with real food. Blinking lights may also confuse the person.)
- Plan ahead. When attending a holiday party, prepare the host for special needs, such as a quiet room for the person to rest when they get tired, away from the noise and distractions.
- Adjust expectations. Call a face-to-face meeting or arrange for a group discussion via telephone, video chat or email for family and friends to discuss holiday celebrations. Make sure that everyone understands the situation and has realistic expectations about what you can and cannot do. No one should expect you to maintain every holiday tradition or event.
- Let others contribute. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably manage. Have a potluck dinner or ask others to host at their home. You also may want to consider breaking large gatherings up into smaller visits of two or three people at a time to keep the person with Alzheimer’s and yourself from getting overtired.
- Adapt gift giving. Provide people with suggestions for useful, safe and enjoyable gifts for the person such as comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing; CDs of favorite music; favorite foods and photo albums of family and friends.
- If friends or family members ask you what you’d like for a gift, you may want to suggest a gift certificate or something that will help make things easier, like house cleaning, lawn or handyman services, laundry services, restaurant gift cards or even volunteer to visit with the person for an afternoon so you can have some time off.
For more information, visit alzhereforyou.org or call the 24/7 Helpline, even on holidays, at 800.272.3900.